Space shuttle Discovery was rolled out from its processing hangar on Sunday, as NASA moved to keep to a tight schedule for Discovery’s launch on a milestone International Space Station construction mission next month.
The transfer to Kennedy Space Center’s massive assembly building had been delayed several days for last-minute repairs to the spaceship’s landing gear. Technicians discovered a leaky seal, which had to be replaced.
This week, Discovery will be hoisted vertically and bolted to an external fuel tank and a pair of solid rocket boosters.
Liftoff remains targeted for October 23, said NASA spokesman George Diller.
The shuttle will be carrying a connecting hub, called Harmony, to the space station that will serve as the anchoring point for new laboratories built by the European and Japanese space agencies.
The $100 billion orbital outpost, a project of 16 nations, is a little more than 60 percent complete. The U.S. space agency has just three years to finish the station before its fleet of shuttles, the only ships designed to haul and assemble the components in orbit, is retired.
Discovery’s fuel tank was modified to alleviate a problem with insulating foam flying off during liftoff and striking the orbiter. A collision with such debris triggered the 2003 Columbia disaster, which killed seven astronauts. Tank modifications have been an ongoing process since then.
During the last shuttle mission in August, a softball-sized chunk of foam hit the shuttle’s belly, setting off a time-consuming series of engineering analyses to determine if a risky in-flight repair was needed.
NASA eventually cleared the shuttle for its fiery return through the atmosphere without a repair.
Post-flight inspections showed the shuttle returned with no additional damage, but NASA decided to remove and refill the suspect areas on Discovery’s tank to prevent a recurrence.