NASA Shuttle Team Confident in Discovery's July Launch Target
The space shuttle Discovery returns once more to Launch Pad 39B on June 15, 2005 in preparations for NASA's STS-114 spaceflight.
Credit: NASA/KSC.

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

"It's been a pretty tough 2 1/2 years," said Michael Wetmore, the Merritt Island man who heads shuttle processing at the space center. "We're now very confident that light at the end of the tunnel is not a train."

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

Discovery could fly any time between that day and July 31.

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

Wetmore said that's early enough to support a rushed flight to the International Space Station in the event Discovery is crippled and the astronauts become stranded at the orbiting outpost.

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

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

Instead, the remaining concerns deal with launch debris, particularly ice.

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

Top managers, including Administrator Mike Griffin, will be here to review whether the last remaining debris sources pose an unacceptable risk that would prevent launching in July as planned.

NASA has stressed it can't eliminate all debris.

The agency focused on the most 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 a fatal hole in the heat shield.

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