The astronauts aboard the shuttle Discovery did some weather forecasting Saturday as they beamed down television pictures of Tropical Storm Gert in the Gulf of Mexico and thunderstorms in the Caribbean.
"It looks pretty threatening," Discovery mission commander Frank Culbertson said. He showed several minutes of videotape recorded as the shuttle, about 180 miles high, passed over the center of Gert north of the Yucatan Peninsula.
"It looks like it's growing. There's a lot of feeder bands around the outside of it," Culbertson told Mission Control, where NASA officials said they were worried about the path that the storm was taking.
"Obviously, we have a vested interest," said shuttle communicator Greg Harbaugh in Houston. But he told Culbertson that early indications were that the tropical storm was moving west, not north.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would consider evacuating mission managers to a control center in Florida if a severe storm were to hit the Gulf Coast near Houston.
Saturday was the crew's seventh day in orbit. In addition to observing the weather below, the five astronauts conducted science and technology experiments as they pursued a telescope that they planned to retrieve today.
The shuttle and telescope were more than 30 miles apart Saturday, but by today they will be only 30 feet apart when an astronaut reaches out to grab the telescope with the shuttle's robot arm.