Endeavour heads home early as NASA eyes hurricane

Space shuttle Endeavour undocked from the international space station a day early Sunday, as NASA kept a wary eye on Hurricane Dean. Space agency managers worried that the storm would move toward Houston and force them to evacuate to a smaller-staffed makeshift control center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Endeavour crew prepared to land Tuesday as a precaution. Orbiting outpost since August 10, the shuttle crew has attached a new truss segment to the station, has delivered cargo and has replaced a failed gyroscope, which controls the station's orientation. A spacewalk on Saturday was shortened so the astronauts could wrap up their work at the station. The astronauts also skipped flying around the station after undocking to take pictures of the complex, an exercise NASA likes crews to do if the schedule and fuel supply permit.

Although it was uncertain whether Dean, a Category 4 storm, might strike the Texas coastline later this week, NASA managers said it would be irresponsible not to cut the mission short, especially since most of the tasks had been completed. NASA is ready to rush a skeleton crew of flight controllers to Cape Canaveral, but only if the shuttle cannot land Tuesday for some reason and the hurricane is bearing down on Houston and threatening the city for several days. In 26 years of space shuttle flight, NASA never has had to call up an emergency Mission Control, although it has been practiced.

News source: CNN

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