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THE NATION

Hurricane might shorten shuttle mission

August 18, 2007|From the Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. — Worried that Hurricane Dean might blow its way, Mission Control considered scaling back today's spacewalk at the orbiting shuttle-and-station complex to allow for a possible early end to Endeavour's mission.

NASA wants to keep its options open for moving up Wednesday's shuttle landing by one day, and shortening the spacewalk would be one way to do it, said LeRoy E. Cain, a ranking member of the mission management team.

Shuttle managers also decided Friday to put off fuel-tank preparations for the next launch until engineers decide how to solve the foam-loss problem. A piece of foam, ice or a combination of both broke off the tank during Endeavour's launch last week and shot against the shuttle's belly, carving a deep gouge that triggered a furious week of thermal analyses.

Cain said a redesign to the area in question probably would not delay the next mission, currently targeted for October, but could postpone later flights.

Much of today's spacewalk -- the fourth and final outing of Endeavour's two-week mission -- involves space station chores that could be put off, Cain said.

Hurricane Dean was aiming for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. If it looks like the storm might veer toward Houston, Mission Control could be forced to relocate to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Those operations would not be as good and there would be fewer controllers, which is why NASA probably would opt to bring the shuttle home a day early.

A less likely option would be to keep the shuttle at the International Space Station past its scheduled Monday undocking.

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