NASA execs consider delaying launch a second day

The chances that the space shuttle Atlantis would be launched into orbit this week diminished by the hour Sunday as NASA prepared for Tropical Storm Ernesto and the possibility of moving the spacecraft into shelter. Workers on Sunday rolled to the launch pad a gigantic crane that could be used to move generators and other heavy gear at the launch pad in case the shuttle is moved back to the protection of the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building. In addition, the huge crawler-transporter vehicle that would carry the shuttle was being run through tests, and crews prepared to make room inside the assembly building to accommodate the shuttle. NASA officials planned to decide Sunday night whether to roll back or continue with a Tuesday launch attempt. NASA doesn't want the shuttle on the launch pad if winds are greater than 45 mph (72 kph); crews need two days to safely move the shuttle. Earlier Sunday, NASA delayed the launch from Monday to Tuesday in order to give engineers more time to figure out if a lightning strike Friday damaged the spacecraft's solid fuel rocket boosters and other systems. Liftoff originally had been set for Sunday afternoon.