CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Space shuttle Atlantis skipped its two landing opportunities Thursday because of showers and clouds at Kennedy Space Center.
The showers were within 34 miles, and there were clouds within 8,000 feet of the landing strip at Kennedy Space Center, both violations of flight rules, NASA said.
We looked as hard and long as we think is reasonable and the rain showers and [cloud] ceilings are going to keep us from making it into Florida today, Mission Control radioed Atlantis seven astronauts.
The shuttle has five more landing opportunities over the next three days.
Mission Control said opportunities at Kennedy, the primary landing site, look slightly more promising on Friday and Saturday. Opportunities to land at Kennedy on Friday are at 2:16 p.m. and 3:51 p.m. EDT.
On Friday, NASA also could consider using a backup landing site in California where landing opportunities are at 5:21 p.m. and 6:56 p.m. EDT.
That backup site plus another in New Mexico would be activated Saturday if necessary.
Atlantis has enough power for its systems to orbit until Sunday, but managers want the shuttle to land by Saturday. The flight would only be extended to Sunday if there were technical problems that needed to be fixed.
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.
During the crew s 13-day mission to the international space station, the astronauts installed a new truss segment, unfurled a new pair of power-generating solar arrays and activated a rotating joint that allows the new solar arrays to track the sun.
The mission was extended by two days to give astronauts time to repair the thermal blanket.
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