Bad weather delays space shuttle launch to Friday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA postponed shuttle Discovery’s launch to Friday to wait out bad weather from an approaching cold front, officials said.

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Discovery, which will be making its 39th and final flight, had been due to lift off at 3:20 p.m. EDT (1920 GMT) on Thursday after a two-day delay to resolve technical issues.

The outlook for Friday is better, with a 60 percent chance that conditions will be suitable for launch, Air Force meteorologists said. Liftoff is now targeted for 3:04 p.m. EDT (1904 GMT) on Friday.

The shuttle is carrying a storage pod, spare parts and supplies for the International Space Station, as well as a prototype humanoid robot flying as a technology demonstration project.

Managers called off Thursday’s launch attempt after a dismal weather forecast of rain, thunderstorms and clouds, said Candrea Thomas, a spokeswoman for the U.S. space agency.

Discovery’s flight is among the last planned for the space shuttle program, which is ending next year to free up money to develop new spaceships and rockets that can travel to asteroids and eventually Mars, places beyond where the shuttles can fly.

NASA hopes to bolster commercial options for flying astronauts to the space station. Once the shuttles are retired, only Russia will have spaceships that can fly people to the International Space Station.

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China, the only other country that has flown humans in space, is not a member of the 16-nation station partnership.

The station, which cost about $100 billion, has been under construction 220 miles above Earth since 1998.

After Discovery’s flight, NASA plans to fly a $2 billion particle detector, known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, to be installed outside the station. The agency also hopes to run a final load of cargo to the outpost next summer.

Congress approved the extra flight, estimated to cost about $600 million, but did not appropriate the funds before adjourning for Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Editing by John O’Callaghan