Atlantis home today, storms permitting
NASA eyes weather at Kennedy Space Center
Atlantis has two "landing opportunities" at 14:00 GMT and 15:39 GMT, but weather conditions could prove "problematic " for a return to the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA forecasts indicate "a broken cloud layer at 4000 feet and a chance for thunderstorms within 30 nautical miles of the shuttle runway".
The mission control team will assess the situation before giving the shuttle crew a "go".
Should they deem the weather too inclement, Atlantis has four possible landing opportunities tomorrow - two at Kennedy and two at Edwards Air Force Base in California. ®
Uh, that's kind of the point -- Heathrow gets lots of noise complaints, but the orbiter wouldn't generate any because it doesn't make any engine noise at all during landing. It was one of those 'joke' things, you know, that...ah, never mind.
@ Andus McCoatover
Enterprise landed at Stansted on the back of NASA 905, it couldn't land there itself. (I spent several hours in the queue to park there to see it.)
They have various back-up landing places for emergencies, but won't use them unless forced because they will cost a lot more. They avoid even the Edwards landing if they can, as it means the extra cost of flying the shuttle back to Florida.
At the backup sites there's no facilities for making safe the dangerous fuels in the shuttle, or for general handling after the landing. They would have to bring one of the carrier aircraft all the way over. They would have to find or bring or build a specialised crane to put the shuttle on top of the carrier. They would have to bring over and house all the people needed.
It would cost a lot of money and a lot of time.
Lots of places, in an emergency
The Shuttle can come down in loads of places if it has to. There are options all over the planet. (Google will reveal the full list.) I remember driving past an Australian Airforce base in the Northern Territory and noting the runway seemed to go on forever. A local later told me NASA had paid to have the runway extended way out into the outback to provide another emergency facility.