After a more than two-year slump following the 2003 Columbia disaster, NASA is expected to decide today if the space shuttle Discovery is fit to launch spaceward next month.
Shuttle program managers, engineers and contractors, as well as NASA chief Michael Griffin, are concluding a two-day flight readiness review today at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The meeting, convened before each shuttle flight, typically yields a target launch date and time for the upcoming space shot. Discovery's current launch window runs between July 13 and 31.
"This is the big one for every shuttle launch," NASA spokesperson Bruce Buckingham told SPACE.com of the meeting. "And we haven't had one in two and a half years, so there's a tremendous amount of material to cover."
The final decision on when Discovery will fly lies with Griffin. Earlier this week, the NASA chief told the House Science Committee that the shuttle was ready to fly despite concerns raised by an independent safety panel, which passed NASA on only 12 of the 15 return to flight measures which Columbia investigators recommended the space agency meet before its next orbiter flight.
NASA officials said participants in the flight review meeting were encouraged to raise any issues or concerns they had pertaining to Discovery's upcoming mission.
"There were several people who spoke up, and it's been a good and thorough process," Buckingham said.
Shuttle program managers and space agency officials have said that - barring some unforeseen circumstance - chances are good for a liftoff in the early days of the launch window, weather permitting.
Discovery's STS-114 mission is the first of two planned orbiter flights to resupply the International Space Station and test new tools and procedures designed to increase shuttle flight safety.
NASA's space shuttle fleet has been grounded since the loss of the Columbia orbiter and its crew on Feb. 1, 2003. The orbiter broke apart during reentry, an accident that was later traced back to wing damage sustained at launch when a loose chunk of external tank insulation foam struck Columbia.
A press conference on the results of NASA's two-day flight readiness review meeting is slated to begin no earlier than 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT).
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