Low clouds kept shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven from making their much-anticipated return to Earth, and NASA vowed to bring the spacecraft down Tuesday in Florida, California or possibly even New Mexico.
Discovery, seen here, roared safely back to Earth after a tense first shuttle flight since the 2003 Columbia disaster and its crew pleaded for support for future space travel (AFP)
"We will attempt to land somewhere," flight director LeRoy Cain said after Monday morning's two unsuccessful landing opportunities.
The delay disappointed the astronauts' families, who were waiting at Kennedy Space Center for their loved ones' return after nearly two stressful weeks in orbit.
Discovery's astronauts woke up Monday evening to The Beatles "Good Day Sunshine" and were ready to get back home.
It is the first shuttle flight since Columbia's catastrophic re-entry in 2003, and the mission experienced a series of problems that required emergency spacewalk repairs and constant engineering analysis.
More cloudy weather was expected at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday with a chance of rain, but it remained NASA's first choice for an early morning touchdown. Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert was the next choice, followed by the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the absolute last resort.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin insisted "there's no agony" associated with the one-day delay in getting Discovery home. Like other space agency officials, he was waiting for "wheels stop" on the runway before even thinking about celebrating.
Come Tuesday, "We're going to land one way or another, one place or another, and all we're talking about is where," Griffin said.
NASA prefers landing shuttles at the same place where it launches them, to avoid the several days and estimated $1 million in ferrying the spacecraft atop a modified jumbo jet back from the West Coast.
Discovery had enough power and supplies to stay in orbit until Wednesday, but NASA was holding out that option only if a technical problem arose that needed time to be resolved.
During the mission, the biggest setback was the loss of a 1-pound chunk of foam insulation from the fuel tank during the July 26 launch, the same problem that ended up destroying Columbia. NASA suspended future shuttle flights just one day after Discovery took off.