NASA Shuttle Managers Discuss STS-121 Launch Plan

NASA Shuttle Managers Discuss STS-121 Launch Plan
The suited STS-121 crew members walk to the bus that will take them to Launch Pad 39B for a simulated countdown. On the left, back to front, are Mission Specialists Stephanie Wilson and Lisa Nowak, and Pilot Mark Kelly. On the right, back to front, are Mission Specialists Thomas Reiter of Germany, Piers Sellers and Michael Fossum, and Commander Steven Lindsey. Reiter represents the European Space Agency. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

CAPE CANAVERAL,Fla. - NASA mission managers andengineers began a two-day meeting at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Friday togive the space shuttle Discovery a last once-over in preparation for a plannedlaunch next month.

"There willbe literally hundreds of folks down here for this," KSCspokesperson Bruce Buckingham said Thursday of the Flight ReadinessReview (FRR) underway here for NASA's STS-121mission. "They're going to go through every aspect of the vehicle from thetime we last launched."

Buckinghamsaid the meeting - which will end with a press briefing on NASATV at no earlier than 2:00 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) Saturday - also offers anopportunity for shuttle managers and engineers to raise any final concerns orquestions over the planned STS-121 launch.

"This is anotheropportunity for them to get another briefing and to readdress any issues theymight have in their minds, and for anybody else in theroom to stand up and say 'Hey I've got a problem or listen to this scenario,'"Buckingham said. "There will be opportunities for folks to do that."

Discoverylast flew in July2005 during the STS-114mission, NASA's first shuttle test flight after the 2003 Columbia accident. Theorbiter now sits atop Launch Pad 39B, where shuttle workers are preparing it toloft the STS-121 astronauts towards the International Space Station (ISS) noearlier than July 1.

STS-121commander StevenLindsey and his six crewmates trained inside the orbiter Thursday during a launchdress rehearsal, and will return to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston,Texas later today. Lindsey has said he's confidentthat shuttle managers will opt for a July 1 space shot, though there have beendiscussions to delay the flight by a few days to secure optimum lighting forphotographs of Discovery's external tank once it's jettisoned after launch.

"Ipersonally wouldn't be surprised if we end up with something around July 1,"Lindsey told reporters earlier this week.

Discoveryand its launch stack have gone through a series of modifications since the lastshuttle flight, the largest of which being the removalof a nearly 34-pound (15-kilogram) ramp of foam insulation that screenedpressurization lines along Discovery's external tank hull.

A one-pound(0.4-kilogram) piece of foam from a similar ramp, known as a protuberanceair load (PAL) ramp, fell from Discovery's external tank during the STS-114launch but did not strike the orbiter. But the problem was a haunting reminderof Columbia's final launch, in which a 1.67-pound (0.7-kilogram) chunk of foamthe size of a suitcase pierced the orbiter's heat shield during its liftoff andled to its destruction upon reentry.

NASA spaceshuttle program manager Wayne Hale has called the PAL ramp's removal thelargest aerodynamic change to the shuttle launch system since its first flight25 years ago. Earlier this month, Hale said that after countless tests andsimulations, the external tank change has been rated "structurallysound" for flight.

Many of theissues to be discussed over the next two days will not be new to shuttlemanagers, but they will conduct a final poll Saturday on whether to go aheadwith the launch.

"We expectthat that's going to be a go signal from everybody at the table," Buckinghamsaid.

STS-121mission commander Steven Lindsey will speak briefly with the media live on NASATV at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT) today.


NASA'spost-Flight Readiness Review press conference will also be broadcast on NASATV no earlier than 2:00 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) Saturday.


You areinvited to follow along with the briefings using'sNASATV feed, which is available by clicking here.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.