Shuttle Launch Date Up In The Air, Risks Remain
With the May 15, 2005 launch date quickly approaching, NASA officials feel there’s only a 50/50 chance of actually making the desired date. However, this has not prevented NASA from rolling Discovery out to the scheduled launch pad, which began at 9:00am PST.
One of the main concerns is the remaining risk the shuttle faces from fuel-tank debris, which was the cause of the Columbia disaster. According to USAToday:
The first shuttle flight since the Columbia accident is scheduled for May 15, less than six weeks away. A crew of seven on the shuttle Discovery will take supplies to the International Space Station and test methods for inspecting and fixing the shuttle’s heat shield.
But shuttle program manager William Parsons said Tuesday that there’s only a 50% chance of making that date. The shuttle could launch until June 3; after that, it would have to wait until mid-July.
Since the Columbia accident, NASA engineers have redesigned the fuel tank to reduce the amount of debris – mostly foam insulation – that falls off it.
Other NASA officials have a more pragmatic approach to the risks. They feel they have taken necessary steps to greatly reduce the risk facing the orbital vehicles, but they do acknowledge risks of debris damage linger. The upcoming Discovery mission will have a crew of 7 and will be led by Commander Eileen Collins.
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