A Rocket Science Finish to 2006

If the weather cooperates, tonight’s launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery could kick off a "rocket finish" to 2006.

At least nine satellite or shuttle launches are scheduled between now and December 31st.


NASA reports from the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center

All systems onboard the space shuttle are functioning normally this morning, but there’s a 60 percent chance of weather prohibiting a liftoff at 9:35 p.m. EST. A cold front moving through the area is expected to bring with it a lingering blanket of clouds and isolated light rain. The team will press on with the countdown for now, in case the weather cooperates after all.

Starting shortly after 9:00 a.m., Discovery’s orange external tank will begin loading 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen. This process, called "tanking," takes about three hours to complete. The propellant levels in the tank will be continuously "topped off" until the final minutes of the countdown.

Across the space center, in the Operations and Checkout Building’s crew quarters, the astronauts are scheduled to wake up just as tanking is getting under way. After breakfast, a weather briefing and suiting up, they’ll board the silver Astrovan and leave for the launch pad amid the cheers of Kennedy employees.

The STS-116 mission is the 33rd for Discovery and the 117th space shuttle flight. During the 12-day mission, the crew will continue construction on the International Space Station, rewiring the orbiting laboratory and adding a segment to its integrated truss structure.

But will the weather cooperate? "The forecast has trended for the worse right now," says Kathy Winters, the shuttle’s weather officer.

The weather in French Guiana looks a bit better for tomorrow’s planned launch of Arianespace’s final Ariane 5 mission of the year,  which will lift SES-Americom’s AMC-18 satellite. That launch can be seen live in North America beginning at 4:45 pm EDT.