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Sunita’s return put off by a day

She (Sunita) is very eager to try chaat, samosas and other Indian delights when she returns home.
— Deepak Pandhya, father

Cape Canaveral, June 21
Bad weather forced NASA on Thursday to delay bringing space shuttle Atlantis back to Earth at least until Friday, the US space agency said.

Touchdown at one of the Kennedy Space Center’s seaside runways in central Florida had been scheduled for two opportunities on Thursday afternoon, but thick cloud cover and rain showers prompted NASA managers to call off any landing attempts.

Flight directors decided not to staff the shuttle’s backup landing site in California on Thursday, but if weather continues to prohibit a touchdown in Florida, both sites will be available for Friday’s landing attempts.

The shuttle has enough fuel and supplies to stay in space until Sunday.

The shuttle cannot land in rain because it has the potential to damage the thousands of ceramic tiles that protect the spaceships’s belly from the fiery heat of re-entry.

Atlantis spent most of its nearly two-week long mission at the International Space Station, where the crew installed a 17-tonne metal truss that included solar power panels to generate additional electricity for the half-finished $100 billion complex.

Meanwhile, thunderstorms within 55 kms and clouds within 8,000 feet of the landing strip at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) forced mission managers to skip both the landing opportunities at 2220 IST for a 2325 IST touchdown and at 2355 IST, for a 0100 IST landing in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The first opportunity on Friday is on Orbit 218 and calls for a de-orbit burn at 2244 IST with landing about an hour later. The second is on Orbit 219, which calls for the de-orbit burn to begin at 0020 IST on Saturday and landing to take place at 01.21 p.m. at Kennedy.

Mission controllers and the Spaceflight Meteorology Group will closely monitor weather forecasts for Friday’s opportunities in Florida and at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the space agency said.

Two opportunities are available at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The first landing opportunity is at 0149 IST on Saturday and landing at 0252 IST at Edwards. The final opportunity is one orbit later with the de-orbit burn at 0325 IST and the landing at 0426 IST at Edwards. NASA managers prefer landing at Kennedy since there would be less cost and time in preparing Atlantis for its next mission in December. It would cost $ 1.7 million and take up to 10 days to bring the shuttle back to Florida from California aboard a jumbo jet.

With the imminent return of Williams, a Needham resident, her parents - father Deepak Pandya and mother Bonnie are waiting at the NASA headquarters, while her husband, Michael is at the Kennedy Space Centre. He will be allowed to meet the astronaut immediately after her landing in Florida from her six-month mission.

Williams, 41, set a record on Saturday for the longest uninterrupted space flight by a woman - passing the previous record of 188 days and four hours.

“She is in an excellent spirit and will miss the space station and her cosmonaut friends,” said Dr Deepak Pandhya, her father.

“She is very eager to try ‘chaat’, ‘samosas’ and other Indian delights when she returns home and is all set to try all the things that she missed in space after she takes a good shower that she has missed the most in space." — Reuters, PTI

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