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08 July 2011

Storm delays final shuttle inspection

Photo credit: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight Now

Cape Canaveral - A thunderstorm on Thursday delayed final inspections on the shuttle Atlantis as it prepares for liftoff on the historic last mission of the 30-year space shuttle programme, Nasa said.

Liftoff is scheduled for Friday at 15h26 GMT, though the United States space agency has warned that turbulent weather moving in from the Caribbean has left only a 30 percent chance of good launch conditions.

The skies turned an ominous grey and several thunderclaps rattled Kennedy Space Centre as engineers attempted to do an early rollback at 16h00 GMT of the rotating service structure around Atlantis on Thursday.

“The space shuttle launch team is evaluating a possible lightning strike within one third of a mile from Launch Pad 39A at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre,” Nasa said in a statement.

“Engineers will review data to determine if the lightning affected space shuttle Atlantis or any of the pad's ground support equipment,” it added.

“A continuing band of thunderstorms has prevented teams from conducting a detailed pad inspection, which must be performed before the rotating service structure can be rolled back from the shuttle.”

The rollback marks the last major movement of equipment on the launch pad before the shuttle takes off. It was originally planned for 18h00 GMT.

If weather forces a delay, other launch opportunities open on Saturday and Sunday. Atlantis's flight will mark the final mission of the 30-year space shuttle programme. - Sapa-AFP-IOL