CAPE CANAVERAL - Asix-month slip in NASA's next shuttle mission, coupled with hurricane damage toits external tank factory in New Orleans, is prompting the agency to move a lotof hardware around Kennedy Space Center.
The orbiter Atlantis washoisted off a mobile launcher platform in the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building on Friday, the first step in taking apart a fully assembled shuttle.
The spaceship -- which willbe moved back to its processing hangar Tuesday -- was connected to a 15-storyexternal tank with attached solid rocket boosters. Technicians will begindisassembling the tank-booster set next week.
"We don't want theshuttle to stay stacked because we won't be launching until next year,"said KSC spokeswoman Jessica Rye.
Shuttle external tanks willall undergo modifications to prevent shedding of foam insulation in flight. The2003 Columbia accident was caused by breakaway foam, and a large piece ofinsulation fell off Discovery's tank during NASA'sfirst post-Columbia launch inlate July.
Atlantis' segmentedboosters will be taken apart because they would have been stacked for 12 monthsin December, exceeding a time limit. A new set will be built up and the oldsegments will be shipped back to their Utah manufacturer.
The external tank forNASA's next mission -- which is tentatively set for launch next March but facesfurther delays -- arrived back at KSC on Friday.
The barge carrying it washeaded back to a tank manufacturing plant in New Orleans but reversed course toavoid Hurricane Katrina, which seriously damaged the factory.
Designated ET-119, the tankwill be offloaded from the covered barge Wednesday and then moved into the52-story assembly building. NASA is examining the possibility of doing tankrepair and modification work at KSC because the New Orleans factory could beclosed for months.
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