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Shuttle Discovery's External Tank Swap Going Well

Independent Safety Group Tackles Launch Waivers for Discovery's Flight
Suspended from an overhead crane in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the orbiter Discovery is lowered toward the Solid Rocket Booster and External Tank (seen below) already stacked on the top of the Mobile Launcher Platform (MLP). (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -Shuttle Discovery is dangling from a crane inside the Vehicle Assembly Buildingthis afternoon after workers carefully removed the orbiter from its externalfuel tank and solid rocket boosters this morning.

Discovery is going to fly with a different external fuel tank, which shuttleworkers modified to solve safety concerns about dangerous ice debris and aglitchy fuel valve. Discovery's move off the old tank is expected to take untilevening to complete.

However, the progress of work inside the assembly building continues slightlyahead of schedule. Discovery could be attached to its new external tank andboosters on Monday, one day early. If so, the shuttle could return to Pad 39Bon June 13, also one day early.

Every day counts for the shuttle launch team as NASA works to ready Discoveryfor the first shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster.

Launch day is currently planned for July 13, though the space agency has untilthe end of July to get Discovery off the ground.

The shuttle team continues to have almost two weeks of padding in the scheduleto achieve the July 13 launch.

If Discovery can't fly in July, NASA will have to wait until September becauseof safety constraints that require good lighting on Earth and in space. Thereason is to make sure engineers have the best pictures possible of the shuttleand its redesigned fuel tank. Foam falling off the tank during launch causedthe 2003 shuttle disaster.

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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.