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Discovery Shuttle Launch Decision Expected Today

After a more than two-year slump following the 2003 Columbiadisaster, NASA is expected to decide today if the space shuttle Discovery isfit to launch spaceward next month.

Shuttle program managers, engineers and contractors, as wellas NASA chief Michael Griffin, are concluding a two-day flight readiness review today at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The meeting, convened before each shuttle flight, typically yields a target launch date and time for the upcoming space shot. Discovery's current launch window runs between July 13 and 31.

"This is the big one for every shuttle launch," NASAspokesperson Bruce Buckingham told SPACE.com of the meeting. "And wehaven't had one in two and a half years, so there's a tremendous amount ofmaterial to cover."

The final decision on when Discovery will fly lies withGriffin. Earlier this week, the NASA chief told the House ScienceCommittee that the shuttle was ready to fly despite concerns raised by anindependent safety panel, which passed NASA on only 12 of the 15 return toflight measures which Columbia investigators recommended the space agency meetbefore its next orbiter flight.

NASAofficials said participants in the flight review meeting were encouraged toraise any issues or concerns they had pertaining to Discovery's upcomingmission.

"There wereseveral people who spoke up, and it's been a good and thorough process,"Buckingham said.

Shuttle program managers and space agency officials havesaid that - barring some unforeseen circumstance - chances are good for aliftoff in the earlydays of the launch window, weather permitting.

Discovery's STS-114 mission is the first of two planned orbiterflights to resupply the International Space Station and test new tools andprocedures designed to increase shuttle flight safety.

NASA's space shuttle fleet has been grounded since the lossof the Columbia orbiter and its crew on Feb. 1, 2003. The orbiter broke apartduring reentry, an accident that was later traced back to wing damage sustainedat launch when a loose chunk of external tank insulation foam struck Columbia.

A press conference on the results of NASA's two-day flightreadiness review meeting is slated to begin no earlier than 3:30 p.m. EDT(1930 GMT).

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