Shuttle Discovery on Track for Wednesday Launch

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla.- With less than two days remaining its countdown, NASA's space shuttleDiscovery is still on track for a July 13 launch, shuttle officials said Monday.

After morethan three hours of spirited discussion here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center(KSC), mission managers said only minor issues remain unresolved for Discovery'sSTS-114 mission, NASA's first planned shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster.

"We have acouple of loose ends to tie up," said Wayne Hale, deputy manager for NASA's shuttleprogram, after the first pre-launch meeting of the spaceflight's missionmanagement team (MMT). "I wouldn't consider them major [but] I would say thatwe do have to resolve those issues before we go fly."

Currentsitting atop Launch Pad 39B, Discovery is scheduled to launch seven astronauts intoorbit on July 13 at 3:51 p.m. EDT (1951 GMT). The 12-day spaceflight isexpected to deliver more than 28,000 pounds of cargo to the International SpaceStation (ISS) and test new orbiter inspection and repair techniques to increaseshuttle flight safety.

The Columbia orbiter wasdestroyed, its crew lost, when it broke apart during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003.Investigators later attributed the accident to wing damage caused by externaltank debris shaken loose at launch. NASA has spent the last two and a halfyears working to limit external tank launch debris, and installed new sensorsand cameras on Discovery and its external tank to scrutinize the vehicle'slaunch.

Hale, whochaired the MMT meeting, said that questions still remain over four externaltank fuel level sensors that failed on Discovery's launch stack during an Apriltankingtest, though engineers have since switched the orbiter to a new externaltank. Engineers are also working through the night to close paperwork for newtools developed for the tile and reinforced carbon-carbon panel repair techniquesto be tested during the STS-114 mission, he added.

"Weanticipate very positive results tomorrow," said Bill Parsons, NASA's shuttleprogram manager, during a press briefing.

Discovery'smission is the first of two planned test flights to evaluate shuttle andexternal tank modifications performed in response to the Columbia accident. Both flights will belaunched to the ISS, which has gone without a major shuttle resupplysince 2002. Construction plans have all but halted for the orbital facilitysince some components can only be launch aboard NASA shuttles, and crew sizeshave been limited to two astronauts instead of the nominal three.

"This isprobably the most pivotal, critical moment to continue assembly of the station thatwe've had," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's ISSprogram manager, of Discovery's mission. "We can't continue the assembly of thespace station without the shuttle and this mission is the beginning of that."

Hale saidthat while NASA has taken great steps to increase shuttle safety, humanspaceflight is still a risky endeavor.

"There comesa point in time when you decide you have reached an acceptable risk," Hale said. We've reached that point...now's the time to gofly."

  • Fixing NASA: Complete Coverage of Space Shuttle Return to Flight

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.