updated 10/1/2004 10:01:24 PM ET 2004-10-02T02:01:24

NASA decided Friday to delay the spring 2005 launch date for the first shuttle flight since the Columbia tragedy, citing hurricane damage and more work needed to meet a panel's safety recommendations.

NASA's spaceflight leadership council said a shuttle launch in March or April is "no longer achievable." The group asked shuttle program officials to analyze whether a May or July date is more feasible for a shuttle launch, and to report back to the council later this month, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said.

NASA's shuttle fleet has been grounded since space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board issued 15 recommendations NASA is working to meet before resuming shuttle flights. The agency has met five of the recommendations so far , Beutel said.

"Right now, those milestones are pointing us toward a new launch window," said William Readdy, NASA associate administrator for space operations.

James Kennedy, director of Florida's Kennedy Space Center, said recent hurricanes that battered the state cost workers three weeks of shuttle-processing time.

Hurricanes Charley and Frances caused widespread damage to NASA's launch site in Florida in mid-August. Hurricane Jeanne later blew off 30 exterior panels from the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building.

The threat of Hurricane Ivan temporarily halted work on space shuttle Discovery's redesigned external fuel tank at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s assembly plant in New Orleans, Beutel said.

The agency's three space shuttles safely made it through the storms, but the damage and work delays at space centers throughout the Southeast strained an already tight deadline to launch Discovery.

"I am proud of our shuttle team for taking good care of our orbiters during this terrible storm season," Readdy said. "I am pleased they are taking the time to make a careful assessment of the hurricanes' impact. Their thoroughness will help us make the right decision."

The first possible launch window beyond March or April opens on May 14, 2005, Beutel said. Other windows will follow in July and September.

The council met in Houston Friday to discuss the upcoming launch of the next space station crew , scheduled to take off from Kazakhstan on Oct. 14.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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