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Landing Gear Inspections Delay Shuttle Discovery's Rollback

NASA Fuels Discovery's External Tank in Test
The space shuttle Discovery sits atop Launch Pad 39B during its initial fueling test of its external tank for NASA's STS-114 mission. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

CAPE CANAVERAL - -- ShuttleDiscovery will stay at the launch pad a few extra days so inspectors can checkits landing gear for cracks.

Kennedy Space Centerworkers recently spotted tiny cracks in sistership Atlantis' landing gear, andNASA wants to make sure the flaw is not fleetwide before Discovery flies thefirst shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia catastrophe, agency spokeswomanJessica Rye said Sunday.

A crawler-transporter wasto haulDiscovery back to the Vehicle Assembly Building early Tuesday morning. Now,rollback is set for Friday.

Meanwhile, inspectors willuse a borescope -- a rigid tube with a camera on its end -- to peer inside thewheel well looking for gear defects.

Engineering photographs ofDiscovery's gear, taken before the shuttle rolled to the launch pad, show nocracks. Engineers want another look. The reason: The gear is critical to thesafety of the shuttle. The cracked part in Atlantis' gear is the uplockmechanism, a hook of sorts that keeps the landing gear in place during flightbut must work so the wheels deploy properly as the orbiter glides to therunway.

After the inspection, NASAplans an auxiliary power unit test-firing Wednesday and rollback on Friday.Once back inside the VAB, shuttle workers will move Discovery from one set oftank and solid rocket boosters to another modified to resolve concerns about icedebris and a glitchy valve. Current planscall for Discovery to return to the pad in mid-June and launch sometime betweenJuly 13 and July 31.

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John Kelly

John Kelly is the director of data journalism for ABC-owned TV stations at Walt Disney Television. An investigative reporter and data journalist, John covered space exploration, NASA and aerospace as a reporter for Florida Today for 11 years, four of those on the Space Reporter beat. John earned a journalism degree from the University of Kentucky and wrote for the Shelbyville News and Associated Press before joining Florida Today's space team. In 2013, John joined the data investigation team at USA Today and became director of data journalism there in 2018 before joining Disney in 2019. John is a two-time winner of the Edward R. Murrow award in 2020 and 2021, won a Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2020 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting in 2017. You can follow John on Twitter.