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Shuttle Discovery Begins Slow Crawl Off Launch Pad

Shuttle Discovery Begins Slow Crawl Off Launch Pad
– On Launch Pad 39B, Space Shuttle Discovery is revealed after rollback of the Rotating Service Structure. The Orbiter Access Arm can be seen extended to the cockpit. Discovery will be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. Once inside the VAB, Discovery will be demated from its External Tank and lifted into the transfer aisle. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

CAPE CANAVERAL - ShuttleDiscovery is headed back to the Vehicle Assembly Building,where a new set of booster rockets and external fuel tank are waiting.

The crawler-transportermoved its first few inches on the pad at 6:44 a.m., beginning a journey thatwill last at least six-and-a-half hours.

Rollback was to start around 2 a.m., but delays finalizing engineeringpaperwork held up those plans.

In the VAB over the nextcouple of weeks, Discovery will be mated with a new fuel tank outfitted with aheater designed to prevent ice from forming.

Ice and insulating foam,like the piece that caused a deadly breach in Columbia's wing, are the most common sourcesof dangerous debris that can come off the tank and boosters during launch.

Tests reveal that, withoutthe new heater, ice buildup on a pipeline outside the tank could be a problemas it is filled with supercold rocket propellants.

On Wednesday, workerstested Discovery's auxiliary power units, which run the hydraulic system thathelps steer the orbiter. The test showed no signs of problems, KSC officialssaid.

Inspections of the ship'slanding-gear also found no problems. A small crack on sister ship Atlantisprompted the checkup.

Unlike Atlantis,"inspections at this point show there are no indications of any cracks inthat area," NASA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said.

Discovery rolled out to pad39B on April 6. If all goes as planned, the shuttle will roll out to the padagain in mid-June. NASA officials hope it will fly during a launch window thatopens July 13.

Published under license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright? 2005 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this material may be reproduced in any waywithout the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

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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.