Endeavour set to land in Florida, weather permitting
AFP - 1 hour 44 minutes ago
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, (AFP) - - The space shuttle Endeavour prepared to return to Earth Sunday, but NASA officials warned uncertain weather conditions in Florida may force it to land in California.
"Endeavour looks to me and to the experts in fact to be as clean or even cleaner than any vehicle we have flown," Mission Management Team chairman LeRoy Cain told a press conference.
Just after the Endeavour undocked Friday from the International Space Station (ISS), a final inspection of its nose cap and wing leading edge panels was conducted by camera and laser device.
Cain said that after completing the damage assessment, his team had cleared Endeavour's thermal shield for a safe entry and landing.
Flight director Brian Lunney at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, said the flight control system "checked out, no anomalies ... That system is ready to support entry."
Endeavour is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday but a cold front with possible thunderstorms and high crosswinds could divert the landing to Edwards Air Force Base, in California's Mojave Desert.
The Edwards landing would be a backup option for as early as Sunday, Lunney said.
He said Endeavour had two landing attempts at KSC on Sunday, at 1819 GMT and 1954 GMT, with a third window at Edwards at 2125 GMT.
"We will be willing to go land on Sunday at Edwards if we look at the forecast and determine Monday is not worth waiting for in terms of going to KSC," he added.
The weather forecast for Monday at Cape Canaveral was not looking good.
The shuttle must be back on earth by Tuesday since its oxygen supply and battery power will be running low by then.
If Endeavour returns as scheduled on Sunday, it will have spent 16 days in orbit, 12 of them docked at the ISS.
During their mission Endeavour astronauts took four space walks to successfully repair a jammed joint of one of three rotating solar panels that harvest energy for the orbiting ISS.
Technical problems with a new piece of equipment that recycles waste water caused NASA to extend the mission by a day.
The 250-million-dollar device was an essential part of the shuttle mission to double the station's accommodation capacity.
Crew members ran three successful cycles on the unit, designed to process urine, perspiration and bath water into drinkable water.
Once up and running, the unit will be able to recycle the station's 6.8 tonnes of waste water produced each year, and make it no longer necessary to regularly ferry vast quantities of water to the space station.
Samples of the drinking water produced by the machine are being brought back to Earth for analysis.
The Endeavour crew also delivered two new sleeping quarters, two ovens and a refrigerator that double the living space on the ISS to allow its crew to increase from three to six.
The Endeavour mission is the last by a US space shuttle in 2008. The next shuttle flight is scheduled for February, with another mission to continue building the space station.
The ISS should be finished in 2010, also the target date for the retirement of the US fleet of three space shuttles.
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