CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew aimed for a touchdown back at NASA's spaceport Saturday following a successful repair mission at the Hubble Space Telescope, but thunderstorms threatened to delay their homecoming for the second day in a row.
Well before dawn, Mission Control instructed the seven astronauts to close the shuttle's payload bay doors in preparation for a landing later in the morning. That's further than they got Friday, when stormy weather over the Kennedy Space Center kept Atlantis in orbit an extra day. This time, the thunderstorms were just offshore.
"We're still monitoring the weather," Mission Control radioed. "We've had a little bit of a better spin on the weather the last hour or so, but we're continuing to watch it."
"Keep spinning," replied commander Scott Altman. "We like the way it's coming up."
Unlike the day before, NASA had the option Saturday of sending Atlantis to the backup landing site in Southern California.
The weather at Edwards Air Force Base is expected to be good all weekend, but it takes time and money — close to $2 million — to ferry a shuttle cross-country. There was still a possibility Mission Control might hold out for Sunday landing at Kennedy, given an improved weather forecast.
Atlantis has enough supplies to remain in orbit until Monday.
The 12-day mission culminated earlier this week with the release of Hubble, freshly restored and considered at its scientific peak thanks to the astronauts' effort. In five back-to-back spacewalks, they gave the observatory brand new science instruments and fixed two others, and replaced batteries, gyroscopes and other aging parts.
NASA anticipates getting five to 10 more years out of the 19-year-old space telescope, before it stops working and has to be ditched in the Pacific.
This was the fifth and final visit to Hubble by astronauts. The mission cost just over $1 billion.(Agencies)