NASA Shuttle Team Confident in Discovery's July Launch Target

With Shuttle and Cargo at Pad, NASA Steps Closer Toward Launch
The space shuttle Discovery returns once more to Launch Pad 39B on June 15, 2005 in preparations for NASA's STS-114 spaceflight. (Image credit: NASA/KSC.)

CAPE CANAVERAL - The teamat Kennedy Space Center is confident Discovery and Atlantis will be ready intime to launch the return-to-flight mission in July as planned, NASA officialstold community leaders at a breakfast Friday.

"It's been a prettytough 2 1/2 years," said Michael Wetmore, the Merritt Island man who headsshuttle processing at the space center. "We're now very confident thatlight at the end of the tunnel is not a train."

Discovery, set to fly thefirst shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster, is at the launch padwith five extra days in the schedule between now and the first available launchdate, July 13.

Discovery could fly anytime between that day and July 31.

Atlantis, which will be onstandby, ready to fly a rescue mission during Discovery's flight, is scheduledto roll to the Vehicle Assembly Building around July 19.

Wetmore said that's earlyenough to support a rushed flight to the International Space Station in theevent Discovery is crippled and the astronauts become stranded at the orbitingoutpost.

"None of us expect toever use that contingency, but we're going to be ready just in case,"Wetmore said.

The processing of the twovehicles, which has involved more than 6 million work hours, is unlikely now tocause a delay unless something unexpected comes up, Wetmore said.

Instead, the remainingconcerns deal with launch debris, particularly ice.

A final engineering reviewof the NASA's debris analysis is set for Friday at Kennedy Space Center.

Top managers, includingAdministrator Mike Griffin, will be here to review whether the last remainingdebris sources pose an unacceptable risk that would prevent launching in Julyas planned.

NASA has stressed it can'teliminate all debris.

The agency focused on themost dangerous debris sources to prevent a repeat of the Columbia disaster,where a piece of insulating foam came off the external fuel tank and blasted afatal hole in the heat shield.

Publishedunder license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2005 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion of this material may be reproduced in anyway without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

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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.