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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Shuttle set despite 'loose ends'

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Shuttle set despite 'loose ends' Shuttle set despite 'loose ends'
By Paul Rincon
BBC News science reporter, at Kennedy Space Center

Space shuttle Discovery is still on course for its launch on Wednesday, despite some unresolved issues, mission managers have said.

The US space agency officials have been holding "spirited discussions" ahead of this week's planned lift-off.

There were some loose ends, said one official, but these would probably not prevent the shuttle from flying.

This will be the first shuttle mission since the loss of Columbia and its seven astronauts in February 2003.

"We have a couple of loose ends to tie up," deputy shuttle programme manager, Wayne Hale, said.

Mr Hale said these issues related to a tanking test carried out in April, when two of four sensors that detect when the hydrogen tank is full failed to work properly; and a pressure relief valve operated more often than expected.


SHUTTLE RETURN TO FLIGHT
Mission known as STS-114
Discovery's 31st flight
17th orbiter flight to ISS
Payload: Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module
Lift-off: 13 July, 1551 EDT
Location: Kennedy Space Center, Launch Pad 39B
Discovery crew: Collins, Kelly, Noguchi, Robinson, Thomas, Lawrence and Camarda

They also concern the historical record of tile damage to shuttles and to data from weather balloons flown to assess whether wind speeds are acceptable for flight.

He said they were having trouble passing data from a weather balloon test added since the Columbia accident.

"They're nothing major, but I would say we have to resolve these issues," Mr Hale said.

The Columbia accident was triggered by a suitcase-sized piece of foam insulation that broke off the external fuel tank during lift-off and damaged the vehicle's left wing.

When the crew attempted to return through the atmosphere, superheated gases entered the wing and tore the orbiter apart.

Since then, Nasa has focused on eliminating the risks to the shuttle during lift-off.

Discovery's launch is scheduled for 1551 EDT (2051 BST; 1951 GMT) on Wednesday, when the chances of weather being acceptable for launch are 70%.

If lift-off is delayed for 24 or 48 hours, this figure is forecast to drop to 60%. One concern for shuttle officials is "tropical depression number five", a weather system which could yet turn into Hurricane Emily.

However, First Lieutenant Mindy Chavez, a shuttle launch weather officer from the US Air Force, said tropical depression number five was not expected to start causing problems until Wednesday.

The mission is scheduled to last 12 days, with landing set for 1101 EDT (1601 BST; 1501 GMT) on 25 July at the Kennedy Space Center.

The mission will carry spare parts and other equipment to the International Space Station (ISS).

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