- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

The seven persons scheduled to lift off on the next space shuttle mission say they are ready for the flight and are aware of the risks they are taking.

Discovery is scheduled to launch sometime between May 15 and June 3 on the first flight since Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, killing its seven-person crew.

“[The Columbia accident] hasn’t changed my view of what I thought the risks would be for spaceflight,” said rookie astronaut Charlie Camarda. “I always knew the risks would be high when I entered this job, and they have not changed.”

He noted that the problems with the O-rings that caused the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the foam that caused the Columbia accident have been solved.

However, Mr. Camarda said, “there are lots of other [potential] problems out there, so the risks are always going to be high. And we take those risks.”

The other rookie on the crew, Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, agreed.

“It did not affect my desire to fly,” he said. “I’m more aware of the risks involved, but I think it is worth the challenge for us to continue the exploration of space.”

Pilot Jim Kelly, a veteran of a previous flight to the space station, said: “Every shuttle mission is dangerous. This one’s going to be no different, other than I think we will have a lot more safety devices on board.

“I think we are going to be safer than Columbia, but no flight’s completely safe,” he said. “But that’s part of the business. That’s just part of the job.”

The other members of the crew are Steve Robinson, Andy Thomas and Wendy Lawrence. The shuttle commander is Eileen Collins.

Discovery was rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building on Wednesday and arrived at the seaside launch pad early yesterday.

“This is a big milestone, and what a welcome sight to see Discovery at the pad,” NASA manager William Readdy said.

It marks the first time a shuttle has been on a pad preparing for liftoff since Jan. 16, 2003, the day Columbia launched on its final mission.

A brief delay in the rollout of Discovery was caused by the detection of a crack in the external fuel tank’s foam insulation. NASA later said the crack was no reason for concern.

NASA spokeswoman Jessica Rye described the flaw as a hairline crack and said that after sending images of it to the tank’s manufacturer in Louisiana, the space agency concluded it did not need to make any repairs.

NASA later said the 11/2-inch crack was high up on the shuttle, in a spot from where foam, if it flew off, likely would not hit the vehicle.

“It’s a very, very tiny crack. Very, very narrow … well within our experience base,” said Mike Leinbach, shuttle launch director.

“We plan to reassess the area during and after a tanking test we have planned for next week, but based on our preliminary analysis, we don’t expect to have to repair the crack,” said Sandy Coleman, NASA external tank project manager.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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