Blustery winds prevented NASA from landing the space shuttle Atlantis in California Wednesday, and the astronauts were ordered to remain in space an extra day.
Mission Control first delayed the landing by 11/2 hours in hopes the winds would subside. But they didn't, and flight directors decreed a Thursday morning touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert."I hope you don't mind if we ask you to stay up another day, but we're going to give up on today," Mission Control's Brian Duffy told the crew.
"We understand, and I think that's a good decision Brian. Thanks a lot," replied Steve Nagel, mission commander.
The astronauts have enough supplies on board to stay up at least through Friday. High winds were expected again Thursday at Edwards, and the weather did not look favorable at the Kennedy Space Center backup site in Florida. Kennedy had not been considered for Wednesday.
Crosswinds had exceeded NASA's limit of 17.3 mph by nearly double most of the morning in California.
NASA previously has had to delay a shuttle landing for weather reasons, and a wave-off has almost become routine.
Wednesday morning, NASA re-established contact with a satellite used to communicate with the shuttle. The space agency lost touch with the satellite late Tuesday and had to switch to ground stations.
Atlantis' five astronauts accomplished their primary task on Sunday, releasing the 17-ton Gamma Ray Observatory. It will circle the Earth for more than two years in search of gamma rays, the most intense radiation in the universe.
The crew also undertook the first American spacewalks in five years - one an emergency mission to fix a stuck antenna on the $617 million observatory, the other to lay groundwork for a $30 billion space station NASA hopes to start building in 1995.
"We are looking forward to the future," said NASA flight director Wayne Hale. "We send people into space for a reason, not just for a ride. This flight has been an excellent demonstration of that."
On Tuesday, mission commander Steven Nagel guided Atlantis to within nine miles of the observatory, after a chase that started from 95 miles away. After closing in on its quarry, the shuttle zig-zagged behind it for several hours.
Nagel used star trackers instead of the more accurate and sophisticated radar to follow the observatory 280 miles above Earth. The star-tracking technique would be vital in case radar failed.
Tuesday's game of tag was the first test of the star-tracking method in space. NASA used radar on past satellite repair missions.
The satellite trouble Wednesday involved a satellite that covers Earth's Eastern Hemisphere. It relays video and voice signals and other data to the shuttle and made ground stations obsolete. It was those ground stations that NASA activated.