There has not been a night lift-off of a shuttle in the NASA fleet for the last four years. Tomorrow's launch of the shuttle Discovery, STS-116 on a 12 day-long mission to the ISS, the International Space Station, may do just that depending on the weather. They also had a Tuesday test that saw a slight power surge which has caused some limited worry about an electrical glitch that could stop the long-arranged count-down schedule.
As of today NASA and the Miami Herald have reported that the two electrical anomalies have been straightened out and only the weather is in question. The technical issues from the Tuesday test were "a brief power surge that flared late Monday in a main electrical circuit and a modest concern about the integrity of adhesive used in the shuttle's solid rocket boosters."
The weather has been deteriorating but variable with lift-off chances lowered to 40% and then raised to 60%. The STS-116 mission has a six person crew and is commanded, Mark Polansky. One astronaut is a replacement crew-member for the International Space Station. The crew is to work on re-wiring the station.
The Miami Herald reported from NASA's briefings that launch is scheduled for 9:36 PM on 7 December 2006 (2:36 GMT, Friday). At 7PM on Wednesday the weather forecast is calling for a 60% chance that the mission will be permitted its departure. You can use NASA to access a weather "podcast" as well as the NASA site to watch their Launch Blog which will begin live broadcasts at 3:30 PM tomorrow, Thursday.
The photograph (from the earlier STS-86, also night shuttle launch – ©NASA) The STS-116 mission is said to be one of the most complex of the program. The visual possibilities of a night take-off are also verging on the astounding and worth watching if, indeed STS-116 does indeed ignite its fiery tail and fly.
The actual performance remains to be seen and, like many things from picnics to photo shoots and horse races, remains with the weather gods.
Another weather report of interest does not seem to be worrying NASA's controllers for STS-116 — an astronomical forecast for increased solar activity within the next two weeks. This was an "Official Space Weather Advisory issued by NOAA Space Environment Center Boulder, Colorado, USA" yesterday morning just before 8 AM. They reported a strong radio blackout caused by a solar flare on 5 December at 5.:35 AM Eastern Time caused by the eruption of a strong solar flare in the "NOAA active sunspot Region 930".
A very bright flare was observed by the GOES satellite's imaging system of NOAA but, they reported, … any associated ejected material is not likely to be Earth directed. Additional activity is likely from Region 930 as it rotates across the Sun, and additional major events could lead to a possibility of higher levels of radiation storms or geomagnetic storms over the next two weeks. Agencies impacted by solar flare radio blackouts, geomagnetic storms, and solar radiation storms should continue to closely monitor the space environment during the rotation of Region 930 across the Sun between now and its anticipated departure on 18 December.
Keep an eye on this potentially awe-inspiring flight of the aging shuttle fleet working to assemble the ISS which will help us fix the Earth and reach for the stars. Perhaps if we Earthlings put more energy into becoming Spacelings we could work together to reach the heavens rather than arguing over whose God sits on what throne.