Monday, August 08, 2005

Shuttle Landing Jitters

NASA moments ago scrubbed today's two landing attempts by the space shuttle Discovery. In relaying the word to the astronauts on board the Discovery, flight controller Leroy Kane stated that the weather over the landing site was actually in a "go" condition, and the weather within the critical landing zone was also in a "go" condition. They waved off the landing because weather had been unstable overnight and flight controllers were just too nervous about a landing without more consistent weather patterns.

These weather concerns are nothing new, although the caution seen in today's landing does appear to be much higher than usual. Landing on the east coast of FL in the pre-dawn hours during the summer months always has a very high risk of inclement weather. Low-lying clouds and potential rain showers are a constant threat in that region. This begs the question, why do it? The alternate landing site at Edwards Air Force Base - once the primary landing site for the shuttle program - experiences consistently better weather, especially for pre-dawn landings. The only reason to bring the shuttle into the Kennedy Space Center is to avoid the cost of transporting the vehicle back to FL after it has returned to earth. Given the cost of keeping the shuttle in orbit another 24 hours without any guarantee of better weather, The Grape must wonder if it's worth it. Of course, that question applies to the entire shuttle program.


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