Space shuttle launch date postponed a week
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: April 20, 2005
As expected, NASA managers today announced a May 22 target date for shuttle Discovery's liftoff on the first post-Columbia mission, saying time needed to close out a handful of open issues precluded an attempt at the May 15 opening of the actual launch period.
An official launch date will be set during a formal flight readiness review next month but as of today, NASA managers said they are confident Discovery will be ready to go by May 22, nearly two-and-a-half years after Columbia's destruction during re-entry Feb. 1, 2003.
"We've always felt that the processing was not the driving factor in this," Bill Parsons, shuttle program manager, told reporters today. "Things have gone very well (at the Kennedy Space Center). Most of this is because of the analysis we're doing and some of the things we want to go ahead and close out and give ourselves a little bit of dwell time to look over it and review it the way we always do. So that's what we did."
The goal of Discovery's mission is to deliver supplies and equipment to the international space station. During three spacewalks, shuttle astronauts Stephen Robinson and Soichi Noguchi will test heat-shield tile and wing leading edge repair procedures; install a replacement gyroscope; and attach a spare parts storage platform needed for future assembly flights.
Discovery's launch period, based on lighting constraints imposed for at least the first two post-Columbia missions, opens May 15 and closes June 3.
NASA will not launch Discovery unless it can dock with the space station on the second full day of the mission, known as flight day 3. As it now stands, FD-3 opportunities are not available on May 23, 25 and 27. But NASA plans to ask Russian space program officials to adjust the international space station's orbit in the coming weeks to provide FD-3 docking opportunities for every day of the launch period.
Assuming the May 22 target holds up, Discovery' countdown would begin around 3:15 p.m. on May 19 for a liftoff at 1:03:49 p.m. on May 22. Here's a brief timeline overview of the mission (a detailed flight plan and countdown timeline are available below; all times EDT).
NOTE: These times likely will change slightly after the station's orbit is adjusted; updates will be posted here as they are made available. This quick-look timeline is posted for guidance and planning purposes only:
05/22...01:04 PM......Launch (current T-0: 1:03:49 PM) 05/23...07:09 AM......Orbiter thermal protection system survey begins 05/24...09:34 AM......Discovery docks with space station 05/25...04:34 AM......Supply module move to station begins 05/26...06:29 AM......Spacewalk No. 1 begins 05/26...01:04 PM......Spacewalk ends 05/27........................Supply transfers 05/28...06:39 AM......Spacewalk No. 2 begins 05/28...01:09 PM......Spacewalk ends 05/29...07:19 AM......Joint crew news conference 05/30...06:39 AM......Spacewalk No. 3 begins 05/30...12:39 PM......Spacewalk ends 05/31...09:09 AM......Supply module moved back to shuttle 06/01...06:51 AM......Shuttle undocks from space station 06/02........................Re-entry preparations 06/03...08:36 AM......Landing
Discovery's payload is scheduled to be delivered to the launch pad for installation in the shuttle's cargo bay on April 28. Commander Eileen Collins and her crew will fly to Kennedy May 1 to participate in emergency training and a dress-rehearsal countdown May 2-4.
A flight readiness review to close out any open items and to set an official launch date is now targeted for May 10 and 11. At some point soon after, NASA will formally present those results to an independent panel of experts charged with monitoring the agency's implementation of post-Columbia safety upgrades.
The panel, chaired by former Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford and former shuttle commander Dick Covey, has been following NASA's return-to-flight effort for a year. The group had hoped to present its final report to new NASA Administrator Mike Griffin a full month before launch, but that is no longer possible.
Hale said the timing was not a critical issue, however, because panel members have kept up to date with NASA's progress throughout the return-to-flight effort. He said several panel members sat in on a design certification review Tuesday that provided a thorough discussion of all open items.
"We've been in contact with them a great deal," Hale said. "As a matter of fact, we had a number of Stafford-Covey members at the design certification review and they have been through the entire process with us. In fact, they have raised many useful suggestions, which we have incorporated as we've gone through the last two years.
"So I think we have a great deal of information from them already and if they come in their final report with a significant concern ... then I think we will consider it. And if we need to deal with it, I'm sure we will.
"We are aiming for a launch date based on our best knowledge," Hale said. "But if somebody comes in tomorrow and says look, you forgot something, then I don't care if it's Stafford-Covey, one of our own engineers or anybody else, we will give them serious consideration."
The design certification review Tuesday marked a major milestone in the shuttle's return to flight. Hale said senior managers and engineers, including Griffin, reviewed 20 major post-Columbia modifications and improvements to the external fuel tank, main engines, solid-fuel boosters and the shuttle itself.
The only issues that remain open as of this writing involve the amount of launch stress a new inspection boom in the cargo bay will experiences during ascent - and the outcome of tests to prove it can, in fact, endure those stresses - and three ice debris issues involving the external fuel tank.
Hale said he is confident the inspection boom is ready for flight and he said tests were underway to make sure any ice that builds up in the areas of concern will safely shake off when the shuttle's engines and boosters roar to life.
All three areas of the tank are visible to launch pad cameras and Hale said regardless of what the testing shows, if ice actually forms in any of those areas during Discovery's countdown, NASA would simply delay launch.
Engineers are looking into techniques for melting any ice that might form on high-humidity launch days. At some point down the road, NASA plans to add additional heaters to the tank to preclude ice formation.