Shuttle landing has to wait a day

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL [FULL COVERAGE: NASA and space shuttle coverage]
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NASA decided conditions were too poor to bring Discovery back to Florida on Thursday evening. Mission Control skipped both landing possibilities and ordered the seven astronauts to keep circling the world for a 14th day. Their next chance at returning will be Friday at 5:54 p.m.

The forecast for Florida on Friday is worse, and it only gets a little better Saturday. NASA says if necessary, it will consider the backup landing site in California on Friday.

Earlier, around noontime, commander Rick Sturckow and his co-pilot fired Discovery's engines to move out of the way of a mysterious piece of orbiting junk. The debris apparently came off the linked shuttle and international space station during a spacewalk by astronauts on Saturday.

Specialists did not know how big the piece was -- or even what it was -- but determined it was going to pass uncomfortably close to Discovery over a period of 12 hours beginning Thursday afternoon. The threat went away after the pilots lowered the shuttle's orbit slightly.

NASA had to contend with two other pieces of space junk during the flight, while the shuttle still was docked to the international space station. No dodging was required in those cases.

There was good news Thursday on the space station front: A brand new Japanese cargo ship successfully rocketed into orbit carrying a full load of supplies. It's due at the outpost next Thursday. It will be plucked from orbit by the station's robot arm.

Discovery dropped off tons of equipment and experiments at the space station, as well as a fresh crew member. The shuttle is returning with garbage, surplus gear, science samples, a former station resident and Buzz Lightyear. The 12-inch action figure doll has been in orbit for 15 months and awaits a tickertape parade at Walt Disney World.

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