Shuttle's Spring 2005 Launch Date Delayed

HOUSTON (AP) -- The first shuttle flight since the Columbia tragedy has been pushed back by NASA because hurricane damage and implementation of new safety measures made a spring 2005 launch ''no longer achievable."

March or April had been the tentative date selected by NASA's spaceflight council, which announced the delay Friday.

The council, in Houston to discuss the Oct. 14 launch of the next international space station crew from Kazakhstan, asked shuttle program officials to analyze whether a May or July date is more feasible, and to report back to their findings later this month, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said.

NASA's shuttle fleet has been grounded since Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Council members decided to rethink the launch date of Discovery because of damage caused by the hurricanes in Florida and NASA's promise to implement new safety measures for the shuttle program.

Of 15 recommendations put forth by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, five have been put in place so far, Beutel said.

"Right now, those milestones are pointing us toward a new launch window,'' said William Readdy, NASA associate administrator for space operations.

The hurricanes cost three weeks of shuttle-processing time, said James Kennedy, director of Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

In late August and early September, rain and high winds accompanying Charley and Frances caused widespread damage to NASA's launch site. Hurricane Jeanne later blew off 30 exterior panels from the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building.

The threat of Hurricane Ivan temporarily halted work on Discovery's redesigned external fuel tank at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s assembly plant in New Orleans, Beutel said.

The agency's three space shuttles themselves made it safely through the storms.

"I am proud of our shuttle team for taking good care of our orbiters during this terrible storm season,'' Readdy said. ''I am pleased they are taking the time to make a careful assessment of the hurricanes' impact. Their thoroughness will help us make the right decision."

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