The holiday weekend won't exactly bring Chamber-of-Commerce weather to Florida's Space Coast, but NASA nonetheless stands a good chance of getting its $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission under way.
The lab and its Curiosity rover are slated to blast off from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 10:02 a.m. EST Saturday aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. NASA and ULA will have opportunities to launch every five minutes between 10:02 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.
Meteorologists with the Air Force 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron say there is a 70 percent chance conditions will be acceptable for launch on either Saturday or Sunday. Launch would be targeted for 9:41 a.m. EST Sunday if bad weather or a minor technical problem prevented launch on Saturday.
A cold front is expected to pas through east-central Florida on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday), bringing with it breezy conditions and the potential for cumulus clouds or a low cloud ceiling on Saturday. The forecast calls for winds above 20 mph, and there is a chance of coastal showers.
A second cold front is expected to blow into the Florida panhandle on Sunday. The primary concerns that day remain the same: the chance of cumulus clouds or low cloud ceilings in the launch area. There also will be a chance of coastal showers and winds will be in the upper teens or 20s.
The weather forecast for Monday degrades considerably. There is a 60 percent chance conditions would prohibit launch. The second cold front is expected to pass through east-central Florida, bringing a chance of thick or cumulus clouds, a low cloud ceiling and higher-than-allowable ground winds.
NASA and ULA have until Dec. 18 to launch the Mars Science Lab. After that, NASA would have to delay the launch two years until Earth and Mars once again were optimally aligned for an eight-month interplanetary journey to the red planet.
ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the NASA image of the Atlas V rocket being readied at Launch Complex 41 for the launch of NASA's Mars Science Observatory. The lab and its Curiosity rover are installed within the protective payload fairing atop the rocket. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.