Weather delays shuttle takeoff


Nasa has this morning delayed liftoff of the space shuttle Discoverybecause of stormy weather at the Florida launch site. 

The next launch opportunity would be tomorrow at 1.10am local time. Discovery's mission to the International Space Station will see it deliver supplies, laboratory gear and mice for bone-loss experiments.

The mission, scheduled to last 13 days, will bring final experiment racks to the orbital outpost, a $100 billion project of 16 nations, and supply the station with food and spare parts to keep it operating after the space shuttles are retired next year.

As the assembly of the space station winds down, Nasa and its partners - Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada - are shifting focus to research programs.

Two refrigerator-sized racks for fluid physics and materials science experiments are among the seven tons of new gear slated to be installed during the shuttle's nine-day stay at the station.

Six mice, including three that were genetically enhanced with a double portion of a bone-building gene, will be left on the station as part of a study to find out why astronauts' bones break down in the gravity-free world of space.

The affliction is similar to the bone-destroying disease osteoporosis, which affects millions of people on Earth, particularly post-menopausal women, and occurs because bone breakdown outpaces replenishment. Scientists aren't sure what causes the imbalance.

Although Nasa has flown rodents on the shuttle and station previously, they have never been left behind for a long stay in space. The mice are scheduled to return aboard Nasa's next shuttle mission in November.