NASA will go ahead with the
first space shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia
disaster after fixing damage to a heat-resistant
tile on the shuttle Discovery, a spokesman says.
"The issue has been resolved
- launch is a go," NASA spokesman Mike Rein said.
The tile was damaged when a
window covering fell off Discovery as the spacecraft
sat on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral in Florida as
the clock was counting down to tomorrow's scheduled
launch at 3:51pm local time.
The damage caused by falling
debris rang alarm bells because that was precisely
the problem that doomed Columbia.
It also came just hours after
NASA's administrator, Michael Griffin, had said all
issues except possible bad weather had been settled
and Discovery was ready for launch.
"Everything is at rest today
- yesterday we were working a couple of ... issues
and those were amply put to bed, so we're in good
shape," Mr Griffin said, adding he hoped "the
weather gods are kind for tomorrow".
"Can there be something that
we don't know about that can bite us? Yes, this is a
tough business, it's a very tough business but
everything that we know about has been covered."
NASA has not flown a shuttle
mission since Columbia disintegrated over Texas on
February 1, 2003.
Its wing had been breached on
liftoff 16 days earlier by falling foam and
superheated gases rushed into the gap as the shuttle
re-entered Earth's atmosphere.
All seven crew died.
Discovery's mission will test
improvements made to the shuttle to reduce falling
debris at liftoff and experimental procedures for
repairing damaged heat resistant tiles.
The window covering that fell
off would have been removed before launch.
The shuttle, under the
command of veteran astronaut Eileen Collins, will
also deliver much-needed supplies and equipment to
the International Space Station (ISS).
The station's construction -
a 16-country project, has been on hold since the
remaining three-shuttle fleet was grounded.
NASA weather forecasters said
the outlook for launch was good, but they increased
the risk of thunderstorms.
"For our launch forecast, we
did get a little more pessimistic on this today,"
weather officer Kathy Winters said as the countdown
clock ticked toward the scheduled liftoff.
"There's a 40 per cent chance
of weather prohibiting launch," she told a briefing.
Any thunderstorm must be at
least 20 nautical miles from the shuttle to allow a
A network of 112 cameras set
up to monitor Discovery's surface as it soars will
need clear skies to get good images.
The families of the seven
astronauts killed in Columbia's fatal break-up
offered their support.
"We have had
two-and-a-half-years to reflect daily on the loss of
our loved ones as the shuttle Columbia broke apart
over Texas on February 1, 2003," the families said
in a statement.
"... we have every confidence
that the sacrifice of our loved ones and those that
preceded them will be realised for the benefit of
mankind - Godspeed Discovery."
If Discovery's launch is
delayed, NASA can attempt it twice more before
having to break for a few days to refuel the craft's
onboard power generators.
The current launch window
runs from July 13 through July 31.
The next one opens September
Mr Griffin said the launch
marked a milestone in US efforts to return to human
space flight, but cautioned that space remained a
"There is no recovery from
mistakes we've made, whether it goes back to the
Apollo fire, the loss of Challenger or the loss of
Columbia," he said.
"Going back even further
through 100 years of aviation, the safety lessons
that we who fly have learned are written in other
"The minute we say we're good
enough we start getting bad again."