Image: Discovery
Peter Cosgrove  /  AP
Workers on scaffolding at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B are dwarfed by the rust-colored external fuel tank and solid rocket booster for the space shuttle Discovery on Friday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 7/8/2005 5:53:37 PM ET 2005-07-08T21:53:37

The space shuttle Discovery's astronauts are moving up their trip to Florida to dodge stormy weather, but NASA said Friday that their trip to the international space station should launch on time next week.

The space agency had considered moving Discovery off its launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, due to the approach of Hurricane Dennis. However, on Friday morning, NASA officials said the hurricane would pass far enough to the west that Discovery could safely stay on the pad.

The center of Hurricane Dennis is due to sweep over western Florida or Louisiana by Sunday or Monday, and stormy weather in the Southeast could have complicated the astronauts' scheduled flights from Houston to the Florida space center on Sunday. As a precaution, NASA decided that the crew would fly in on Saturday night instead.

The crew would take a Gulfstream jet rather than the T-38 training jets traditionally flown by the astronauts, NBC News reported. In an e-mail advisory, NASA spokesman Mike Rein said the astronauts' arrival was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET, but he added that the "time may be delayed due to the uncertainty of the weather."

The shuttle is still due to take off Wednesday to carry the seven astronauts and tons of supplies to the international space station, the first shuttle mission since Columbia broke apart more than two years ago.

Last summer, Kennedy Space Center was hit by three hurricanes that caused considerable damage, particularly to the Vehicle Assembly Building, where Discovery would seek shelter in a storm.

Discovery was first brought out to its pad in April, but it was moved back into the assembly building in May to get a new external fuel tank with an extra heater. Engineers wanted the extra heater to prevent dangerous ice buildup from the super-cold fuel.

That work delayed the shuttle's scheduled liftoff from May to July.

NASA has until the end of July to send Discovery on a flight to the international space station. If mission managers miss that launch window, they would have to wait until September to ensure a daylight launch. Managers want the best possible views of Discovery at liftoff to see if any foam insulation or other debris falls off the tank and hits the shuttle, as happened during Columbia's 2003 flight.

The hole left in Columbia's wing caused the spacecraft to break up during re-entry. All seven astronauts were killed.

This report includes information from NBC News and The Associated Press.

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