CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - For the second day in a row, high wind forced NASA today to delay the launch of space shuttle Atlantis on a mission to repair the international space station.
Gusts as high as 37 mph, close to gale force, swept the pad as NASA counted down toward an afternoon liftoff. With little improvement expected, launch managers called a halt and said they would try again Wednesday.
``We knew our chances were iffy with the winds today, but it was the right thing to do to try and we appreciate everybody's efforts,'' commander James Halsell Jr. said from inside Atlantis.
The back-to-back delays cost NASA $1.2 million in shuttle fuel and overtime pay.
More than a few were surprised at NASA's decision to try for an afternoon launch, given the 80 percent chance of lousy weather.
``I can't even believe I'm here,'' Air Force meteorologist Clif Stargardt said, rolling his eyes.
Much better weather was expected for Wednesday's try. If there is no launch then, the flight would be delayed until at least next week.
NASA has only five minutes each day to send Atlantis and seven astronauts to the station. The brief launch window allows the shuttle to use a minimal amount of fuel to reach it.
Monday's launch attempt was called off at the nine-minute mark of the countdown after wind gusts exceeded the safety limit. NASA flight rules say crosswind can be no higher than 17 mph, in case the shuttle has to make an emergency return to the launch site.
Atlantis is loaded with fresh batteries, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and fans for the 1-year-old space station.
Since astronauts last visited the station last spring, two of its six main batteries have failed and another two are showing signs of deterioration.
In addition, an antenna is broken, a crane is loose and the space station's orbit is dropping nearly two miles closer to the Earth each week because of increased solar activity.
NASA wants Atlantis and its crew up there as soon as possible to fix all the problems.
Atlantis was not supposed to fly until the Russians had launched a critical service module with guidance and life-support systems. But with the service module more than two years behind schedule and due to fly no earlier than July, NASA moved up Atlantis' repair mission.
The Russian delays - and the Florida weather - aren't the only things that have kept Atlantis grounded. Halsell twisted an ankle during training last month, and that forced a one-week postponement.
On the Net: http://space flight.nasa.gov/index-m.html.
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