March 5, 2009

Discovery Launch Moved Up To March 11

NASA is so confident that safety issues over Discovery's fuel valves have been fixed, it has decided to move the shuttle's new launch date up a whole day, Reuters reported.

Discovery, which is set to launch on March 11, had been forced to delay its original launch date four times due to the malfunctioning fuel valves.

The shuttle will carry a final pair of solar wing panels to the International Space Station, which is nearing completion after more than a decade of work.

NASA officials at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will perform a final review of flight preparations on Friday.

Seven astronauts will fly to the spaceport on Sunday for the 14-day mission.

Initial concerns over tiny pop-up valves that regulate pressure in the shuttle's hydrogen fuel tank had been the major cause of delay for NASA's first flight of the year.

One of the three valves cracked during the last shuttle flight in November and NASA officials had to take extra precautions for what could happen if a larger or more serious break occurred.

The shuttle's three valves were replaced with spares that have made fewer flights. However, the agency soon plans to redesign the valves entirely.

There are only eight or nine more missions left to the Space Station before construction is complete.

NASA also said it would be servicing the Hubble Space Telescope for a fifth and final time before the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

Sixteen nations have contributed to the $100 billion International Space Station. By May of this year, NASA said it would be sustainable to house up to six astronauts full-time.


Image Caption: Viewed across the waters of the Banana River at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, space shuttle Discovery is secured on Launch Pad 39A. First motion was at 5:17 a.m. EST and the shuttle was secured to the pad at 12:16 p.m. Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder


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