Shuttle Countdown T-6 Days: Forecasting for Shuttle Launches

L to R: Capt. Jeff Smith, Todd McNamara (center) and Dave Craft discuss weather Launch Commit Criteria based upon weather radar information. Photo: Department of Defense, Used with Permission

As GeekMom’s token meteorologist AND military member, in honor of the final shuttle mission planned for next week, I’m thrilled to share with you some insight into the weather forecast preparations for a space shuttle launch.

After all, what delays launches most often?  The weather, right?  I’m not sure if a precise count exists, but according to HowStuffWorks, weather and mechanical delays dominate total delays, and many have guessed it’s about a 50/50 split.

For anyone who has tried to center a road trip to Cape Canaveral around a launch, only to have that launch delayed so much you effectively wasted a trip, you might appreciate the precision involved here.

Kathy Winters is the Shuttle Launch Weather Officer with the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  The 45th is charged with the official go/no go launch weather forecast for all Space Shuttle missions.  Ms. Winters wrote a series for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Armed with Science blog last April, walking readers real-time through a launch forecast process for the (originally scheduled) 29 April Endeavor launch.

Enjoy these blog posts as Ms. Winters walks you through the wide variety of forecast support required for a successful mission:

Longer Range Products

Forecasting for Moving Solid Rocket Booster Segment

Forecasting for Moving the External Tank Barge

First Launch Forecast (issued approximately 3 days prior to scheduled launch)

How Rockets Can Trigger Lightning

Brush Fire at L-2 Days & Forecasting for the Solid Rocket Booster Recovery Team

The Launch Day Forecast! (this post was scheduled to run on the original launch date: 29 April, however the launch didn’t actually occur until 16 May, due to mechanical delays)

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Patricia Vollmer is the proud mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 12 & 15. She is a meteorologist with the Air Force Reserve and is currently assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy. Patricia blogs about her family's nomadic military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which is currently in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hobbies include running, despite no one chasing her, sharing her love for Disney and Star Wars, and exploring the world with her boys. Ask her why the sky is blue at your own risk.