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Delayed shuttle now heading to California

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The space shuttle Atlantis, denied a landing at its home field for three days because of weather, will try for an alternate landing site in California, NASA said Tuesday.

Earlier in the day the space agency ordered the five Atlantis astronauts to close the shuttle's large payload bay doors, which are kept open during flight to keep the orbiter cool. Closing them meant the five astronauts would have to come down some time during their next three 90-minute orbits of the planet.

The new landing time at Edwards Air Force Base in California was set for 1:33 p.m. MST.

Despite bad weather at Cape Canaveral and marginal weather at Edwards, NASA did not have the option of keeping the shuttle up indefinitely. Wednesday was the ultimate deadline when the shuttle would start running low on power.

"Everything looks just about perfect," Mission Control told shuttle commander Kenneth Cockrell.

"Pass to all the folks down at (the Kennedy Space Center) and our families there we're sorry we won't see them right away. But we appreciate making it home somewhere today," Cockrell responded.

If the weather in California worsened, Atlantis could land at White Sands, N.M., but that would be a last resort. A space shuttle has landed only once at White Sands, in 1982.

The crew was in the 13th day of a mission that saw them deliver a $1.4 billion laboratory module to the $95 billion orbiting international space station. The mission had gone smoothly until all of the landing delays.

Flight controllers could also decide to put off a landing until Wednesday.


WEB SITE: spaceflight.nasa.gov