Image: Discovery
Kim Shiflett  /  NASA
The orbiter Discovery is settled into place behind the external tank and solid rocket boosters in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  Discovery is scheduled to roll out to Launch Pad 39B no earlier than Nov. 7 for its December mission. news services
updated 11/2/2006 9:30:57 PM ET 2006-11-03T02:30:57

NASA on Thursday approved pushing back three shuttle launches next year to give the space agency more time to service and possibly make changes to the spacecraft’s external tanks.

The first three launches of next year are now scheduled for March 16 using space shuttle Atlantis, June 28 using Endeavour, and Sept. 7 using Atlantis again. Those three launches on missions to construct the international space station originally had been set for Feb. 22, June 11 and Aug. 9.

NASA also plans shuttle missions next year in October and December to deliver space station parts constructed by the European and Japanese space agencies.

The space agency is considering further design changes to the external tank. Its problems with shedding foam were blamed for 2003’s Columbia disaster, which killed seven astronauts.

Managers plan to hold a critical meeting in two weeks, at which they will decide whether to make changes to the tank.

Meanwhile, preparations are continuing for the shuttle Discovery's Dec. 7 launch to the space station. On Wednesday, the orbiter was moved to NASA's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building, hoisted up by a crane and outfitted with its external fuel tank and twin booster rockets.

After electrical and mechanical tests, Discovery is due to be moved out to its seaside launch pad at Kennedy Space Center no earlier than Nov. 7, said NASA spokeswoman Jessica Rye.

During an 11-day mission, Discovery is to carry a truss section to the station for installation. The shuttle will also take up a cargo module packed with supplies for the station's crew.

NASA says it needs 14 more flights to complete construction of the orbital research outpost. The agency has also slated two shuttle missions to carry heavy equipment and spare parts to the outpost, plus a final servicing call to the Hubble Space Telescope. The shuttle fleet is due for retirement in 2010.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.

© 2013


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