The launching of the space shuttle Challenger with a schoolteacher passenger will be delayed one day, until Sunday, because sand is obscuring visibility at an emergency landing site in Africa, NASA announced Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the shuttle Columbia left Edwards Air Force Base a day early Wednesday on the start of its Boeing 747 ferry flight to Florida. The craft was scheduled to arrive today after an overnight stay in San Antonio.
Challenger's liftoff on the 25th shuttle mission had been scheduled for 1:21 p.m. PST Saturday, but it was delayed until 6:36 a.m. PST Sunday, primarily because of concern about poor visibility at the emergency field at Dakar, Senegal.
Florida Weather a Factor
Another factor in the decision was a weather front expected to pass through the shuttle port area Saturday, which ruled out an attempt to launch Challenger on that day.
The countdown was scheduled to start today, and landing now is scheduled for Feb. 1 at the Kennedy Space Center.
Challenger originally was scheduled to take off Jan. 22, but the shuttle Columbia's launching and landing delays had forced the postponement to Saturday.
By rescheduling launching for Sunday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration can take advantage of a hastily approved "transatlantic abort" landing field in Casablanca, Morocco. An afternoon launching would have required a nighttime landing at Casablanca, and the international runway there is not equipped with the necessary high-power landing lights.
More Training Time
Challenger's seven-member crew, including New Hampshire schoolteacher Sharon Christa McAuliffe, remained in Houston an extra day to squeeze in more training time before traveling to the Kennedy Space Center today.
The delay threw a wrench into the crew's flight schedule and left in doubt when McAuliffe's two long-planned lessons from orbit will be rescheduled for broadcast to classrooms across the nation.