NASA to Discuss Space Shuttle Discovery's Launch Plans
NASA officials will meet today (Dec. 2) to discuss whether the space shuttle Discovery will be ready for one last launch later this month, or must wait until 2011 to fly, following more than a month of delays and repair work.?
Top shuttle program managers will review the repairs made to Discovery's massive external fuel tank and review launch options for the shuttle's final journey to the International Space Station.
Discovery's STS-133 mission has already been delayed since early November due to technical and weather-related issues. After meeting last week, NASA shuttle managers opted to forgo any launch attempts until Dec. 17 ? at the earliest.
NASA has just a short window in which to try and launch Discovery this month. The mid-December window closes on Dec. 20.
If the shuttle is approved to launch on Dec. 17, liftoff would occur at 8:51 p.m. EST (0151 Dec. 18 GMT) from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., NASA officials have said.
Engineers at the Florida spaceport recently completed work to plug a potentially dangerous hydrogen gas leak and reinforce cracked metal ribs on Discovery's huge external tank. Officials had been aiming for a Dec. 3 launch, but program managers did not feel they had a firm enough grasp of how the problems originated, and decided not to proceed with the scheduled attempt.
Discovery was slated to lift off with a six-astronaut crew on Dec. 3 at 2:52 a.m. EST (0753 GMT). The shuttle's planned 11-day mission will deliver a storage room and Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot, to the International Space Station. Two spacewalks are also planned.
If Discovery is unable to launch in December, the STS-133 flight could be postponed until February, when the next clear cut launch window opens, agency officials said last week.
As it currently stands, NASA would be unable to launch Discovery during most of January, due to unfavorable sun angles that could cause parts of the shuttle to overheat while it is docked to the station.
A couple of days may open up early in February, ahead of the next launch window on Feb. 27, which was originally reserved for Endeavour's final spaceflight ? the STS-134 mission. If needed, Endeavour's last mission could be rescheduled for the end of April, NASA officials have said.
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You can follow SPACE.com Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow.
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