- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

NASA officials pushed back the launch date for the Space Shuttle Discovery by a week, citing the need to complete engineering paperwork and analyses for the first flight since the February 2003 Columbia accident. The new target date is May 22.

Shuttle manager William Parsons said lighting constraints and positioning of the International Space Station were key factors in switching the date, creating a launch window lasting until June 3. After that, the launch would be delayed until July 13 at the earliest.

NASA engineers want the best lighting conditions for the Discovery astronauts to view the external tank after it separates from the shuttle. The astronauts will take photos of the tank to ensure that none of its insulating foam has come off.

Foam broke apart from the Space Shuttle Columbia during liftoff and tore the spacecraft’s left wing. The shuttle exploded upon re-entry and killed all seven astronauts.

Another limiting factor for the Discovery launch is preparing the Space Shuttle Atlantis as a rescue vehicle. NASA has decided that for the next two shuttle flights another shuttle will be ready to launch within a month with a four-member rescue crew.

Mr. Parsons said paperwork is the limiting factor in readying the Atlantis. “That’s our Number 1 concern when we’re looking at this — finishing the paperwork.”

NASA emphasized that it will not launch until it’s ready and is satisfied that all of the safety requirements have been met. “We know the work in front of us and we’re very comfortable about getting it done. We know exactly what we have to do to get to the May 22 launch date and we’re going to do that,” Mr. Parsons said.

Discovery’s 13-day mission has two primary goals: verifying that all of the changes made to the shuttles have worked, and the resupplying the International Space Station.

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