Space shuttle Discovery has encountered yet another obstacle on the way to its final mission: storms.
Inclement weather led NASA's mission controllers to scrub Discovery's Nov. 4 launch. "If it looked like there was any possible chance of giving it a shot, then I think we would have," Pete Nickolenko, assistant launch director, told the Associated Press. "It was really very clear today that it just wasn't looking to be our day weather-wise."
The shuttle's launch had already been pushed back due to mechanical issues. NASA's Prelaunch Mission Management previously scrubbed liftoff due to electrical glitches, saying it wanted to give engineers time to delve into a problem involving the main engine computer controller.
NASA officials are apparently looking to Nov. 5 for Discovery's next launch window. If the weather holds, the shuttle will lift off just after 3 p.m. And if all goes according to plan after that point, the six astronauts aboard will undertake an 11-day mission to the International Space Station.
The shuttle's weather team estimates a 60-percent chance that skies will be clear enough Nov. 5 for launch.
During the mission, astronauts will deliver spare parts to the Station, along with the Express Logistics Carrier -4. The ELC will provide electrical power, mounting surfaces, and command and data-handling services for science experiments. The shuttle will also transport SpaceX's DragonEye relative navigation sensor, and the signatures of the more than 500,000 students who participated in the 2010 Student Signatures in Space program sponsored by Lockheed Martin and NASA.
Weather or no, NASA has until Nov. 7 to launch Discovery, or risk scrubbing the mission until early December. Once the shuttle returns to earth, it will be mothballed, although its sister Endeavor is due for at least one more mission before meeting the same fate.
"We're wrapping up the Space Shuttle Program," Mission Commander Steve Lindsey is quoted as saying. "Besides the excitement of completing the International Space Station and all the things we do, I hope people get a sense of the history of what the space shuttle is and what we've done and what's ending. Because they'll probably never see anything like it flying again."
The loss of two space shuttles from orbit will have ripple effects on Earth. NASA's main space contractor, United Space Alliance, announced it would lay off around 15 percent of its space shuttle workforce, impacting employees in Florida, Texas and Alabama.