NASA has met two more recommendations that are required for the space agency to return to flight, but remains stymied on inspection and repair methods for shuttles in orbit.
Inspection and repair, along with the elimination of fuel-tank foam shedding, are the most technically challenging issues facing NASA as it aims for a spring 2005 launch, the head of an oversight panel said Thursday.
Despite the lingering hurdles, there is no reason to believe shuttle flights won’t resume next March or April, said Richard Covey, a former shuttle commander who is chairman of the task force overseeing NASA’s progress following the Columbia disaster.
The task force gave conditional approval Thursday to NASA’s response to two return-to-flight recommendations, one requiring digital photography for critical shuttle systems to augment engineering drawings and create a robust database. The other requires a standard definition for debris discovered during shuttle flight preparations.
Five down, 10 to go
That brings to five the number of Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations that NASA has successfully met; 10 remain before Discovery can take off on the first post-Columbia flight.
For instance, the development of a boom for inspecting the underside of an orbiting shuttle is lagging, and NASA is not sure whether the device can be ready by next spring. NASA already has given up on trying to create a repair wrap for any sizable holes in the shuttle wings.
As for NASA’s inability to fix a hole as large as the one that doomed Columbia last year, Covey said the task force has yet to assess the issue. And the group is still studying NASA’s proposed use of the international space station as an emergency shelter for visiting shuttle astronauts, in case their ship is damaged beyond repair during launch.