Hurricane Dennis risk to Shuttle launch

by Chris Bergin

Soon-to-be-classified as a Hurricane, Tropical Storm Dennis is being closely monitored by NASA officials, with a decision to be made on Thursday regarding a potential rollback of Discovery and a new launch date being set.

Discovery is due for a launch during a window that opens on July 13, next Wednesday, but Dennis – currently set to produce Hurricane Category 3 winds of 115 mph at its height – is keeping officials on their toes as they wait to see which path the Hurricane takes.

“We’re definitely watching it,” said space shuttle forecaster Kathy Winters, to Florida Today.

Rumours of a potential rollback came late on Tuesday, although United Space Alliance workers continued with normal operations last night. A rollback of the Shuttle would occur on Friday if weather forecasters noted the Hurricane either heading to Florida – or if the strength produced winds around the 60-70 mph mark or above.

“We’re connecting ordnance (on Tuesday night) and after P.I.C. test will be performing final closeouts on the STS (Space Transportation System – so they’re pressing on for next weeks launch date,” said one USA worker who can’t be named.

“Of course, if that wind (Dennis) turns into hurricane, and heads for centre of state, or east coast, we will probably bust up all the closeouts and disconnect all explosives for rollback probably Friday.”

A meeting is set for Thursday to decide two issues. The first is to decide whether a rollback of the Shuttle is required due to the threat level of Dennis, while a second will realign the launch date which would be delayed by the rollback.

Florida Today also noted an Orlando weather forecaster on what will be monitored over the coming 24 hours.

“As we track this out, I’ll tell you that it will move to the north-northwest to begin with,” said Larry Mowry, a meteorologist for WKMG Local 6 News in Orlando. “Then as it heads toward western Cuba, there is a little uncertainty on the path it will take.

“It may curve to the north and head to Florida or it may take a westbound course and head toward Texas. That’s the big question now.”

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