CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA is checking the shuttle Atlantis for any damage from a bolt of lightning that struck within a mile of the of the spacecraft today (July 7), just one day before the agency's last space shuttle launch ever, agency officials said.
The midday lightning strike touched down within one-third of a mile of Atlantis, which is perched atop Launch Pad 39A for NASA's final shuttle launch on Friday. The shuttle is slated to launch tomorrow at 11:26 a.m. EDT (1526 GMT), but only if weather allows and the vehicle is undamaged by lightning.
"Right now there's no obvious damage," NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel told reporters.
A team of engineers is inspecting Atlantis and its launch pad ground systems to make sure both are unharmed by the nearby lightning, Beutel said. Sensors did not show any power spikes that would suggest a major hit, he added. [ Photos: NASA Prepares for Final Shuttle Flight ]
Atlantis is poised to launch NASA's final space shuttle mission, a delivery flight to the International Space Station. But the agency has been fighting a battle with dismal weather. Forecasts currently predict a 70 percent chance that thunderstorms, lightning and clouds will delay tomorrow's launch try.
Bad weather delayed work today to roll back a shroud-like structure that protects Atlantis from severe weather at the launch pad. More storms are expected for the next day.
"We're going to be dodging storms for the next 24 hours," Beutel said.
Florida, in fact, is the most lightning-prone state in America.
NASA's final shuttle mission is a 12-day mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. It will be the 33rd launch of Atlantis and 135th mission for NASA's 30-year shuttle program.
NASA is retiring its shuttle fleet after three decades to make way for a new program aimed at deep space exploration of asteroids and Mars. After Atlantis completes its last voyage, the shuttle and its sister ships Discovery and Endeavour will spend their final days on display at museums.