February 18, 2005

NASA Sets Space Shuttle Launch for May 15

MELBOURNE, Fla. (Reuters) -- NASA has set May 15 as the launch date for the first shuttle mission since the Columbia accident two years ago, the agency's associate administrator for space operations said on Friday.

"The challenge right now is closure of an awful lot of paper. The vehicle can't launch until all the paperwork is done," Bill Readdy said during a teleconference with reporters.

"I know that sounds a little bit trivial," he added. "But documentation of each and every thing we do is very important."

The board that investigated the fatal 2003 Columbia accident recommended NASA make 15 changes before resuming shuttle flights.

The Columbia's left wing was holed at liftoff by a piece of falling foam insulation from the external fuel tank, and the shuttle disintegrated 16 days later as it attempted to return through Earth's atmosphere. All seven astronauts aboard were killed.

A special panel overseeing NASA's implementation of the accident board's findings said on Thursday that NASA fulfilled seven recommendations fully and one conditionally.

The outstanding items will be considered at the board's planned final meeting at the end of March.

"We have every expectation that we are going to close all of them," Readdy said. "At this point, we don't see any show-stoppers."

Walter Cantrell, who co-chairs NASA's Space Flight Leadership Council with Readdy, said it had set all its standards "a level or two higher" than the oversight board.

"Obviously we're going to comply with what (they) are looking for. We're the ones that accept the risk, and we've set the standard where we think it should be," he said.

May 15 was chosen as the launch date for Discovery and its seven-member crew because of lighting conditions and thermal issues related to the shuttle's launch and docking at the International Space Station, they said.

NASA managers also set July 12 as the date for the second shuttle mission this year.

However, in case of an emergency aboard Discovery, a second ship could be ready to be launched on a rescue mission as early as June 14, Readdy said.

As part of the safety upgrades implemented after the Columbia disaster, NASA wants to be able to shelter astronauts aboard the space station if their ship is too damaged to return to Earth. Extra supplies will be flown to the space station on Feb. 28.


On the Net:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov