The Spaceflight Meteorology Group
Postflight Mission Summary for STS-86
October 20, 1997
Space Shuttle Atlantis shakes off weather threats for another Florida landing.
Commander Jim Weatherbee used most of the runway as he guided the Space Shuttle
Atlantis to a late afternoon landing (17:55 EDT)(2155UTC) at the Kennedy Space Center
(KSC) October 6, 1997. Crosswinds were just under the limit of 15 knots and low clouds
covered 2/8 of the sky, below the limit of 5/8 coverage.
The launch of Atlantis September 25, 1997 at 10:34pm EDT (0234 UTC) had fewer weather
problems. A line of thunderstorms moved through KSC six hours prior to launch. This
stabilized the air and conditions cleared nicely. SMG CONUS Lead Forecaster Steve Sokol
updated the RTLS forecast to remove rain showers one hour before launch, though a band of
low clouds appeared 20-40 miles NW of KSC that was monitored by satellite and aircraft
until it passed through KSC and was no longer a threat. TAL forecaster Rich Lafosse was
faced with a strong upper level low pressure area but the TAL sites at Moron, Spain and
Ben Guerir, Morocco remained "go" for weather, while the prime site, Zaragosa,
Spain, remained forecast "no go" for low clouds.
Atlantis had a highly successful flight. Astronaut Dave Wolf relieved Astronaut Mike
Foale on The Russian MIR Space Station. In addition to the successful docking with MIR,
the crew performed 3.5 tons of science and logistical exchange and conducted a five hour
The landing weather scenario was a little more challenging. On October 5, showers and
thunderstorms increased and affected KSC, mainly around 6 hours before landing time.
However, though most of the showers were no longer a threat, bands of low clouds formed
over KSC due to low level convergence in easterly flow, and caused wave-offs of both
opportunities. Close coordination with an Atlas launch just two hours prior to the first
shuttle landing attempt made it even more interesting.
On October 6, the weather team was tested as weather began deteriorating at the Edwards
AFB (California), White Sands (New Mexico), and KSC (Florida) landing sites. A strong
upper level low pressure trough and front was causing wind gusts to 35 knots at Edwards
(out of limits) and weather balloons could not even be successfully released. Showers
began to affect White Sands; and KSC had occasional broken ceilings around 4000 feet (well
below the 8000 feet limit) and peak crosswinds over the 15 knot limit. Less than 90
minutes before landing the forecast was amended to "GO" by taking out the chance
of broken clouds at 4000 feet. The broken clouds stayed west of the shuttle runway and the
crosswinds were right at the daylight limit ranging from 12-15 knots as the shuttle rolled
down the entire length of the runway.
Atlantis landed at 5:55pm EDT (2155 UTC) to wrap up a highly successful flight. This
was the 18th of the last 19 shuttle missions to land at KSC, and the 11th in a row.
Lead SMG forecaster was Steve Sokol working his 77th mission, 14th as mission lead.
Rich Lafosse was Assistant Lead and Doris Rotzoll was lead Techniques Development Unit