Image: The space shuttle Endeavour
Troy Cryder  /  NASA
The space shuttle Endeavour stands atop Launch Pad 39A for the planned Nov. 14, 2008 launch of its STS-126 mission to the international space station.
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updated 11/13/2008 1:45:26 PM ET 2008-11-13T18:45:26

The odds are improving for NASA's planned Friday launch of the space shuttle Endeavour as weather concerns dipped slightly today, mission managers said.

Endeavour has a 70 percent chance, a slight increase from Tuesday, of launching toward the international space station Friday night at 7:55 p.m. EST (0055 Nov. 15 GMT), said Kathy Winters, NASA's shuttle weather officer.

The potential for thick clouds and nearby rain showers from an approaching cold front remain the only threat, but the weather should hit NASA's Kennedy Space Center spaceport here in earnest on Saturday, she added.

"We should be a little bit drier tomorrow, but even so that is definitely our main concern for launch," Winters said in a morning briefing.

The weather forecast worsens on Saturday, with rain and clouds expected to reduce Endeavour's launch chances to just 30 percent. Thick clouds pose a potential lightning risk to a shuttle during launch, while clear skies are required around NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility in case of an emergency landing.

Commanded by veteran shuttle flyer Chris Ferguson, Endeavour's seven-astronaut crew is gearing up for a planned 15-day mission to the space station.

The astronauts are ferrying a new member of the station's three-person crew and delivering a host of new equipment that will allow the outpost to support larger, six-person crews next year. The new equipment includes a space refrigerator and second kitchen, extra bathroom, two new bedrooms, extra gym equipment and a water recycling system to turn urine and waste water into a fresh drinking supply.

Four spacewalks are planned for the mission to clean and grease up a damaged solar array gear designed to rotate like a paddlewheel to track the sun. The starboard side gear has been jammed with metal grit since last year, though a portside version is working fine.

Engineers will load the final bits of cargo aboard Endeavour later today and are due to roll back the shuttle's protective Rotating Service Structure late tonight at about 11:30 p.m. EST (0430 Nov. 14 GMT).

"All of our systems are in good shape," said NASA Test Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. "Endeavour is ready to go."

NASA hopes to launch Endeavour by Nov. 21 to avoid docking conflicts at the space station with an Russian Progress cargo ship slated to launch later this month. The shuttle flight's launch window closes on Nov. 25 due to unfavorable sun angles and heating concerns at the space station.

Endeavour's STS-126 mission will mark NASA's fourth shuttle flight of the year and the second to blast off at night. The same space shuttle launched into the predawn Florida sky during a March flight to the space station. About one-third of NASA's 123 shuttle missions to date have launched at night.

"It's going to be a beautiful sight," Blackwell-Thompson said.

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