Space Shuttle Discovery Back Inside Hangar

Space Shuttle Discovery Back Inside Hangar
A crawler transporter vehicle rolls beneath Discovery's Mobile Launch Platform just after dawn to carry the shuttle stack back to the Vehicle Assembly Building on May 26, 2005. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. EDT.

CAPECANAVERAL - Discovery is moving in the wrong direction but for the rightreasons, workers said as the shuttle began rolling back to the launch pad atKennedy Space Center this morning.

The gigantic crawler-transporter first nudged forwardat 6:44 a.m. under cloudy skies, delayed from a 2 a.m. start while paperworkwas completed. Then it moved steadily along the river-rock-lined crawlerway at nearly 1 mph.

The shuttle paused near the Vehicle Assembly Building early this afternoon with an overheated bearing in the crawler-transporter. Workers repacked the bearing in grease and let it cool, NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham said. It was under way again before 3 p.m. and entered the Vehicle Assembly Building about 4:30 p.m.

"It's another slow step in the right direction, and it's another indicationthat we're not going to fly until it's safe to do so," said crawler supervisorRay Trapp of Port St. John as he watched the ship move slowly off the pad.

Brian Jones and a couple of co-workers were there to take pictures of the ship,for "the excitement of going back to flying again," he said.

The rollback, which will allow NASA to substitute the shuttle's external fueltank, was essential for safety reasons, he said.

"I think it's a good thing," said Jones, an elevator worker for contractorUnited Space Alliance who lives in Mims. "It has to be right before it goes."

The new fuel tank will have a heaterdesigned to prevent ice from building up as supercold propellants are loaded.Ice and insulating foam can fly off the tank during launch and strike theorbiter.

Such a strike fatally damaged Columbia during its January 2003 launch, leadingto a breach that allowed hot gases to penetrate the orbiter when it tried tore-enter the atmosphere.

Discovery, moving at nearly 1 mph, should reach the Vehicle Assembly Buildingin mid-afternoon.

It is expected to roll back to the pad with the new tank and solid rocketboosters my mid-June, aiming for a July 13 launch.

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Chris Kridler
Contributing Writer

Chris Kridler is a writer, editor, photographer and storm chaser who authored a group of storm-chasing adventure novels called Storm Seekers. As a reporter covering space, her subjects have included space shuttle missions, the Mars Rovers from California’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and a Soyuz launch and mission from Kazakhstan and Russia. Much of that work was published through her longtime column at Florida Today. Her photographs have been featured in magazines and books, including the covers of The Journal of Meteorology, the book Winderful, and the Wallace and Hobbs Atmospheric Science textbook. She has also been featured in Popular Photography. Kridler started chasing tornadoes in 1997, and continues the adventure every spring in Tornado Alley.