February 21, 2009

Discovery Launch Delayed For The Fourth Time

For the fourth time, NASA has delayed the launch of the space shuttle Discover amid valve concerns.

Shuttle managers decided against launching in a week, after meeting all Friday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Now, the launch is targeted to be no sooner than Feb. 27, but it was not immediately said Friday when it might be rescheduled.

Engineering teams have been working to identify what caused damage to a flow control valve on shuttle Endeavour during its November 2008 flight.

"We need to complete more work to have a better understanding before flying," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington who chaired Friday's Flight Readiness Review. "We were not driven by schedule pressure and did the right thing. When we fly, we want to do so with full confidence."

The shuttle has three flow control valves that channel gaseous hydrogen from the main engines to the external fuel tank. Teams also have tried to determine the consequences if a valve piece were to break off and strike part of the shuttle and external fuel tank.

The Space Shuttle Program has been asked to develop a plan to inspect additional valves similar to those installed on Discovery. This plan will be reviewed during a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 25. Afterward, the program may consider setting a new target launch date.

Originally, NASA was hoping to send Discovery to the International Space Station on February 12th.  However, extra tests were ordered for the valves that control the flow of hydrogen gas into the external fuel tank during liftoff.  One of the valves broke during the last shuttle launch in November.

Managers are making sure that it does not happen again and the ship and its seven-man crew will be safe.


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