NASA's return to flight schedule is threatened again - this time by the approaching Hurricane Dennis. Yesterday, the space agency was getting ready to move shuttle from its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center to a more sheltered hangar. Mission controllers were still hoping the move could be avoided, since it would, once again, delay the return to flight.
Hurricane Dennis is currently working its way through the Caribbean. There are reports that at least five people have died in Haiti as a result of the storm. Forecasters expect the eye of the storm will pass over Cuba some time on Friday afternoon.
Mission controllers at NASA will be monitoring the storm's progress, and will make a final decision today as to whether the Shuttle ought to be moved. If the storm moves towards the Gulf of Mexico, the lift-off on 13 July would most likely go ahead. If it stays on its current Florida-bound heading, the winds are likely to reach the area early on Saturday morning.
"We can go ahead and do the preparations without burning any bridges for a Wednesday launch," said NASA spokesman George Diller, quoted in The Houston Chronicle. "We really don't have to make a decision on whether to roll back until (Friday) afternoon."
The Shuttle would need to be in the safety of the hangar, four miles from the launch pad, before winds reach 46mph, NASA said. Currently, Dennis is moving air around at about 135mph.
It will not be a total disaster if the launch is delayed. The current launch window is open until 31 July, so there is plenty of time for another attempt. ®