Cloudy skies delay space shuttle's homecoming

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Mon Apr 19, 2010 6:41pm IST

The Space Shuttle Discovery is seen after it undocked from the International Space Station with the Earth in the background in this handout image from NASA TV April 17, 2010. REUTERS/NASA TV

The Space Shuttle Discovery is seen after it undocked from the International Space Station with the Earth in the background in this handout image from NASA TV April 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/NASA TV

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - NASA delayed the shuttle Discovery's homecoming from an International Space Station servicing mission until Tuesday after cloudy skies scuttled two landing attempts on Monday, NASA officials said.

Touchdown at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was rescheduled for 7:33 a.m. EDT (1133 GMT) on Tuesday, with several backup opportunities available both in Florida and in California at the space agency's base in the Mojave Desert.

NASA prefers to land in Florida to avoid the costly and time-consuming cross-country ferry flight to return the shuttle to Florida for processing.

Discovery's planned 13-day mission already had been extended by a day so astronauts could use the station's communications system to relay heat shield inspection results.

NASA discovered the shuttle's Ku-band communications antenna was broken shortly after Discovery's April 5 launch. The inspection was implemented after the 2003 Columbia accident, which was blamed on a breach in its heat shield.

Though Discovery has enough supplies to remain in orbit until Wednesday, NASA will land on Tuesday even if it means diverting to Edwards Air Force Base in California, flight director Bryan Lunney said.

Discovery spent 10 days at the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that is due to be completed this year after more than a decade of construction 220 miles (352 km) above Earth. The shuttle delivered a new ammonia cooling system, science experiments, a fourth U.S. sleeping berth and a darkroom for Earth observations and astronomical studies from the Destiny laboratory.

Three shuttle flights remain to complete outfitting of the station before the shuttle fleet is retired.

The weather was not expected to affect NASA's plans to move the shuttle Atlantis to the launch pad on Monday night in preparation for launch on its final mission on May 14.

(Editing by Jane Sutton and Paul Simao)

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