Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stormy Weather Stalls Shuttle Crew Training

Stormy weather is holding up emergency training at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39A today, but Endeavour's astronauts remain are track to blast off April 19 on an International Space Station outfitting mission.

Endeavour commander Mark Kelly told reporters in an informal Q & A that the crew had been scheduled to take part in emergency training at the pad 39A gantry. But the weather forced a delay. Two of the Endeavour astronauts -- mission specialists Michael Fincke and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency -- have not flown on a shuttle mission before so they will have to squeeze in emergency escape training at the launch tower when the astronauts return to KSC on April 15 for final launch preparations.

In an emergency, astronauts would climb aboard escape baskets on the 195-foot level of the launch tower and whisk down a 1,200 foot slidewire to a bunker on the western edge of the pad area. Astronaut crews practice climbing in and out of the baskets during their Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test -- their last major training exercise at KSC prior to launch. They do not actually ride down the slidewire.

Kelly and his three other crewmates -- pilot Gregory "Box" Johnson and mission specialists Greg Chamitoff and Andrew "Drew" Fuestel -- all have flown on previous shuttle missions and have completed emergency training at the launch pad.

Kelly and Johnson completed three dives to the runway in a Shuttle Training Aircraft today. But then had to call it quits because stormy weather was fast approaching. Severe weather sirens blared out at KSC soon thereafter, and there was an unconfirmed report of a funnel cloud near the pad. Lightning strikes have been recorded at the pad. But Endeavour has not sustained any major damage.

The six astronauts are scheduled to launch at 7:48 p.m. April 19 on a mission to deliver a $2 billion high-energy particle detector to the station. They also will haul up a spare parts pallet. The mission will be the 134th for the shuttle program, the 36th shuttle trip to the station, and the 25th and final flight of Endeavour.

Atlantis will launch on the 135th and final shuttle flight on June 28.

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