Final Space Shuttle Launch Threatened by Bad Weather

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Could the final launch of a space shuttle be derailed by rain and thunderstorms? It’s looking like it.

We’re heading into the space shuttle program’s final lap, the last NASA-based launch of a shuttle in history via the Kennedy Space Center this Friday, so it’s somehow poetic that the weather—a frequent cause of prior shuttle launch delays—is weighing in, too, prompting concerns about “showers and thunderstorms, flight through precipitation, and cumulus clouds.”

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The verdict: according to forecasters, there’s a 70% chance we’ll see shuttle Atlantis‘s Friday launch delayed by rain or thunderstorms (or, as NASA optimistically tweets, there’s a 30% chance of favorable weather for Friday’s 11:26 a.m. ET liftoff). That’s probably just what the expected 750,000 to one million anticipated visitors don’t want to hear, though if their travel plans include the option to stick around for an extra day or two, the weather reportedly improves a tick over the weekend.

Speaking of crowds, Florida Today notes spectators watching the launch near ground zero at the Kennedy Space Center are at “six times greater risk from a launch accident” than others watching from nearby offsite areas. We’re not talking a new risk here, but one most probably weren’t aware of. Florida Today got its mitts on Air Force docs via the Freedom of Information Act and found that NASA shuttle launches are “100 times more dangerous to launch-site spectators than other U.S. rockets,” though it adds “the odds of spectators at KSC being injured or killed in a launch catastrophe are extremely remote.”

The good news: NASA appears to be rolling full steam ahead despite adverse weather predictions. “The shuttle Mission Management Team voted unanimously to proceed toward Atlantis’ planned liftoff at 11:26a ET Friday,” tweeted NASA Wednesday morning. The launch countdown kicked off yesterday at 1 p.m. ET and has so far proceeded according to plan.

Atlantis‘s Friday launch signals the end of NASA’s shuttle program after three decades and over 100 missions (Atlantis will check off the program’s 135th). The final 12-day mission, carried out by four astronauts, involves hauling supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station, in part to help stockpile the station as NASA steps away from its role as a key supplier.

MORE: NASA Space Shuttle Endeavor Makes Its Final Landing