updated 2/17/2005 8:29:12 PM ET 2005-02-18T01:29:12

NASA has met another one of the Columbia accident investigation board's recommendations for resuming space shuttle flights: developing better methods for inspecting the wing panels between missions.

The task force overseeing NASA's effort to resume launches as early as mid-May said Thursday the space agency has fulfilled that recommendation.

During Columbia's doomed flight in 2003, a piece of fuel-tank foam pierced one of those panels along the edge of the left wing, causing a gash that led to the shuttle's destruction over Texas during re-entry, and the deaths of all seven crew members.

NASA has now met eight of the investigation board's recommendations. In the next few weeks, the task force hopes to get all the details it needs to decide whether NASA has met the remaining seven.

Among the recommendations already met by NASA: setting up cameras to provide sharp photographs of the fuel tank throughout the launch, and arranging to obtain pictures of the shuttle in orbit from spy satellites.

Among the recommendations still open: eliminating dangerously big pieces of foam from coming off the fuel tank, toughening the shuttle to better withstand debris, and developing ways for astronauts to inspect and repair their shuttles in orbit.

At the space station, meanwhile, a NASA and Russian Space Agency investigation team concluded that miscommunication led astronaut Leroy Chiao to get too close to the orbiting craft's firing thrusters during a spacewalk three weeks ago.

At the time, the thrusters were being fired to stabilize the space station. Ground controllers thought Chiao was farther away based on what he told them, flight director Annette Hasbrook said.

Chiao's spacesuit could have been contaminated by propellant, but was not, Hasbrook said.

Better guidelines will be in place for the next spacewalk by Chiao and cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov in late March, she said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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