Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Weather promising for Endeavour's final landing

Crosswinds at Kennedy Space Center are no longer expected to pose a problem for Endeavour's final landing, planned at 2:35 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

"The weather is very promising for tomorrow," said Tony Ceccacci, NASA's flight director during Endeavour's re-entry from space. "We're getting a better handle on the winds and feeling pretty good about where we're going."

Kennedy Space Center will be the only active landing site Wednesday morning, and Endeavour has two opportunities to touch down on its three-mile runway: at 2:35 a.m. and 4:11 a.m., after 248 and 249 orbits, respectively.

The forecast calls for scattered clouds at 2,500 feet, with winds from the east peaking at 10 knots and producing a 10-knot crosswind that is below the 12-knot limit for night landings. 

"We were able to get a good trend last night and this evening," Ceccacci said of the crosswinds. "We’re very confident the trend is going to stay the same for tomorrow."

There's a possibility a pocket of cold air could produce a shower in the region, but it's expected to be outside the 30 nautical mile radius around the Shuttle Landing Facility that must be clear.

If Endeavour can't land Wednesday morning at KSC, the shuttle and its crew of six would stay in space another day and NASA would plan to bring them home early Thursday to Florida or Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Endeavour has enough oxygen, carbon dioxide scrubbing capability and cryogenic fuel cell reactants to stay in orbit until Saturday, but managers don't want to further extend an already long mission now scheduled to last 16 days.

"We decided just due to the duration of the mission, it would probably be smart to get the crew down (Thursday)," said Ceccacci. "Of course, we’ll make sure its safe, make sure we have good weather set up and such."

Crosswinds on Thursday at Kennedy are forecasted to be sightly higher at 11 knots, but again within limits.

After successful tests earlier today of landing systems and packing up of equipment, Endeavour's crew is scheduled to go to sleep at 9:56 a.m. and awake for their last planned day in orbit at 5:56 p.m. today.

Preparations to drop from orbit will start at 9:26 p.m., about 90 minutes after shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to depart KSC's Vehicle Assembly Building for launch pad 39A. Atlantis is expected to be on the pad by the time Endeavour arrives.

If the weather conditions continue to look promising, Endeavour's payload bay doors will be closed at 10:49 p.m.

The crew would plan to don their orange launch-and-entry suits and strap into their seats around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday ahead of a 1:29 a.m. deorbit burn -- a two-minute, 38-second firing of both Orbital Maneuvering System engines.

Landing ground tracks show Endeavour speeding high over the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico northwest of Cuba before crossing into Florida airspace around Fort Myers and continuing northeast across Central Florida.

Endeavour commander Mark Kelly and pilot Greg Johnson will guide the orbiter through a 245-degree left hand turn over the Atlantic Ocean to approach KSC's Runway 15 moving from northwest to southeast. The direction of approach could change closer to landing time based on weather conditions.

Endeavour's 25th and final landing will be the 24th night landing in shuttle program history.

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