Severe Weather Curtails Pad Activity

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Thu, 31 Mar 2011 04:19:03 PM GMT

Another round of strong storms is passing over NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. this morning. A tornado watch remains in effect until early this afternoon and initial indications are a tornado was sighted north of Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39A about 8:30 a.m. EDT. That’s also about when a media Q&A session was schedule to take place at the pad with space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 astronauts, but due to the severe weather, the media briefing on NASA TV was moved inside to Kennedy’s Press Site. The astronauts’ training related to the launch dress rehearsal, known as the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT), is being adjusted because of the weather.

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This morning’s severe weather also is preventing teams from conducting a thorough survey of Endeavour and the pad following yesterday afternoon’s strong storm that passed through the region. No one was injured and initial assessments indicate there was only some minor foam insulation damage to Endeavour’s external fuel tank. No other obvious damage has been seen, but the team’s survey will verify there is no additional damage.

The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron reports that during yesterday’s storm the pad briefly saw sustained 57 mph wind (50 knots), with a peak gust of 90 mph (79 knots). Small hail was spotted near the pad, and there was a lightning strike about a half mile from the pad’s center. Again, there was no indication of damage, but that will assessed by the teams during their pad walkdown once the weather improves.

The six astronauts who will fly space shuttle Endeavour on its last scheduled mission are at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida this week for TCDT. The work culminates with a dress rehearsal of launch day for the astronauts and the whole launch team. Endeavour, standing on Launch Pad 39A, is set up exactly as it will be for liftoff and the crew takes their assigned seats.

“This is the time when our training meets the processing of the vehicle,” Commander Mark Kelly told news media during a news conference this morning. The event took place indoors instead of its traditional setting at the launch pad because of poor weather conditions at Kennedy.

Describing the mission’s payload, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, as one of the premiere scientific instruments of the 21st century, Kelly said the 15,000-pound physics experiment has to potential to rewrite humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos as it measures cosmic rays from a perch on the International Space Station.

“We’re pretty excited about what the results are going to be,” Kelly said. “(AMS Physicist and Nobel Laureate Sam Ting) told us that within an hour of attaching to the space station, they’re going to start collecting data. AMS could be teaching us things about the universe that are completely unexpected.”

Mission Specialist Mike Finke, a veteran station commander and resident, said the crew is ready for the two-week shuttle flight.

“We’re a team, we’re a family and from what we’ve seen so far, I don’t think there’s anything out there we can’t handle,” Finke said. “When we have our game on, this is an amazing crew.”

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