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EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE PREPARED FOR DISCOVERY ARRIVAL WEATHER COULD DIVERT SHUTTLE LANDING.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - NASA crews prepared on Monday for space shuttle Discovery to land before dawn today in California's High Desert if bad weather again prevents the orbiter from returning to the Kennedy Space Center.

A flight path over unpopulated Los Padres National Forest and a seven- mile safety zone from either end of the Edwards Air Force Base runway were designated to limit danger to people on the ground.

And Edwards did not plan to open its gate to let the public wait for a possible landing, unlike on past shuttle missions dating back to the first landing in 1981, when Columbia was welcomed by 300,000 cheering, flag- waving spectators.

``Too much is required to make it secure and to make it safe,'' said base spokesman John Haire.

Discovery had two opportunities early today to land in Florida: at 2:07 a.m. and 3:43 a.m. PDT. If weather blocked the Kennedy Space Center landings, the shuttle had two landing opportunities at Edwards: 5:12 a.m. and 6:47 a.m.

Two landing opportunities were also available for White Sands, N.M., one at 3:39 a.m. and the other at 5:13 a.m.

About 70 workers from Kennedy are on hand at Edwards for the landing. If the shuttle does land at Edwards, another contingent of about 70 to 80 people will be sent out to prepare the orbiter for its return to Florida.

``We have been training in advance and planning for this for weeks,'' said NASA spokesman Alan Brown.

If Discovery does come to California, it will fly into the Antelope Valley almost directly from the west, entering the state near Vandenberg Air Force Base.

After the Columbia disaster in 2003, NASA re-examined shuttle re-entry paths with an eye toward avoiding heavily populated areas, such as the Los Angeles Basin.

Another change in procedures was the creation of a seven-mile safety zone that extends from either end of Edwards' main runway. No one will be allowed in those areas prior to landings.

NASA prefers to land the shuttles in Florida because it saves about $1 million in costs for ferrying an orbiter cross-country, plus it reduces the amount of handling of the spacecraft.

However, about one of every five missions has ended at Edwards. The last Edwards shuttle landing was June 19, 2002, when Endeavour was diverted from Florida because of bad weather.

Discovery, commanded by Edwards Test Pilot School graduate Eileen Collins, is scheduled to land today, wrapping up a 14-day mission. Discovery had been scheduled to return Monday, but low clouds at Kennedy prompted mission managers to keep the shuttle up an extra day.

Since Columbia disintegrated in February 2003 over Texas, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has invested about $10 million in equipment and improvements at its Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, the primary backup landing site if bad weather or another problem interferes at Kennedy.

A big chunk of NASA's shuttle investment at Dryden was a refurbishment of the mate/demate device, a gantry-like structure used to lift shuttles off the ground for post-flight servicing and to be attached to a modified Boeing 747 jetliner for the return to Florida. NASA invested $2 million to remove lead-based paint and asbestos and to install new winches.

Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743

james.skeen(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2; 1 color in AV edition only -- ran in AV and SAC editions only; 2 ran in SAC edition only) A sign at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, above, stays unchanged Monday after the delay of the Discovery space shuttle landing. At left, NASA public affairs officer George Diller talks to the press at the Kennedy Space Center. After orbiting the earth for nearly two weeks, astronauts aboard the space shuttle were told to circle the planet one more day as bad weather in Florida altered Monday's scheduled landing.

Paul Kizzle/Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 9, 2005
Words:664
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