NASA rules out moving up Atlantis launch date again
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 3, 2006
As part of NASA's recovery from the Columbia disaster, the agency wants to launch Atlantis in daylight and still have enough light in orbit after the climb to space to permit photo documentation of the foam insulation on the shuttle's external fuel tank.
Because of a potential conflict with launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying the station's next full-time crew, Atlantis' launch window currently extends through Sept. 7. NASA managers asked engineers to assess the possibility of launching Atlantis as early as Aug. 26 to maximize their chances of getting the shuttle off before the window closes.
That's important because once the August/September window expires, NASA will only have three useable lighted launch days between then and the end of the year - two in late October and one in December.
But as it turns out, critical areas of the tank's insulation - so-called ice-frost ramps and the nearby area where longer protuberance air-load, or PAL, ramps were once in place, will not be sufficiently illuminated on Aug. 26 to permit the sort of photo documentation engineers want.
As a result, NASA is sticking with the Aug. 27 launch target. Barring major problems, that date is expected to become official at the conclusion of a two-day flight readiness review Aug. 16.