Shuttle will launch in July: NASA

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Shuttle Discovery on the launchpad, June 16, 2005.

NASA says that the Space Shuttle Discovery will launch in July as planned and that no more safety changes will take place until after July's launch.

Tests that NASA performed on the shuttle have found that there is no way to stop the "ice frost ramps" that fall off the shuttles when they launch.

"The decision was to fly these ice frost ramps as is, knowing that we can expect to have some small foam loss that could pose a risk," said the shuttle's project director, Wayne Hale in a press conference.

"There was a strong concern from several folks that we should wait until we have a good design on those pieces of foam and then change them as well before we go fly. We considered that very strongly. However, at the end of the day, we came back to the fact that it is more appropriate to make one change at a time to take care of the biggest problem and then work toward the next situation we would like to improve." added Hale.

In February 2003, shuttle Columbia broke up during its return to Earth because 2 foam pieces that fell off the shuttle's fuel tank hit the wing of the shuttle. NASA grounded the fleet until modifications were made to its fuel tank.

In 2005, another piece of foam was seen falling off Discovery, and the fleet was grounded again and the fuel tank had to be redesigned. The redesign removed two pieces of foam from cables that were insulated from wind when the shuttle was taking off.

Hale called the changes the "largest aerodynamic change that we have made since the shuttle first flew."

"We're in a flight test program. When you make a major change, you should fly that major change and if you have to make additional changes then you make them after the flight," said Hale.

NASA is expected to completely retire the shuttles by 2010, but plans at least 16 more flights to complete the International Space Station.