June 29, 2005

NASA managers assess shuttle launch plans

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - NASA managers began atwo-day meeting on Wednesday hopeful they would confirm a datefor the next space shuttle launch in July, barring some lastminute snag.

"We'll emerge with the knowledge that we're either ready togo, barring the unforeseen, or that some late-breaking bit ofinformation has been brought up," NASA Administrator MichaelGriffin told employees in a televised broadcast.

Griffin said on Tuesday the shuttle should be ready to fly,while acknowledging a safety panel's report this week that saidNASA had not yet fully complied with safety recommendationsmade after the space shuttle Columbia broke up as it re-enteredthe Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven crew.

The shuttle Discovery is already on the launch pad atNASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and during the two-daymeeting managers are expected to approve a launch date in theearly part of the next available launch period: July 13 to July31. They will likely announce their decision on Thursday.

Shuttle engineers still have some small technical issuesthat need to be resolved before Discovery is ready to go,program manager Bill Parsons said, but they are expected to beresolved in time for NASA to make the early part of the Julylaunch window.

Discovery was rolled out to the launch pad in April, butNASA halted plans for a May lift-off to do additional work on aredesigned fuel tank.

Discovery must be properly equipped for flight and sistership Atlantis needs to be within 32 days of launch afterDiscovery's blastoff in case managers must order a rescuemission, Johnson Space Center spokesman Rob Navias said.

Part of NASA's efforts to avoid another Columbia disasteris to have crew members stay aboard the International SpaceStation if their shuttle is too damaged to safely return home.Another shuttle would be launched to retrieve them.