NASA's new administrator, Michael Griffin, said Monday NASA will decide whether or not it is safe to launch Discovery in May no matter what the task force overseeing NASA's progress on return-to-flight preparations will say.
NASA has set a launch window from May 15 to June 3 for the first shuttle flight after the Columbia disintegration in February 2003. The Columbia accident investigation board has recommended 15 improvements in NASA's work, and the task force overseeing NASA's return-to-flight has yet to review the space agency's implementation of the remaining eight of the requirements.
The final evaluation, which was originally planned for late March, will not be made until, at the earliest, the publication of the results of the design certification review on Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The task force had hoped to issue a final opinion on NASA's readiness to resume shuttle flight a full month ahead of the planned earliest launch date of May 15.
"I will make certain that everyone has given me the most convincing technical arguments on why it's OK to launch -- if it is OK to launch -- before we commit to going ahead," Griffin told reporters. He was confirmed by the Senate last Thursday to head the US space agency.
He said NASA will take advice very seriously, but whether or not it is safe to launch shuttle will depend on technical details, and NASA managers and engineers will have the final say no matter what the task force concludes.
Returning shuttle fleet to sky is Griffin's top priority. After the first successful shuttle flight, Griffin said he would consider a final shuttle mission to repair and upgrade the aging Hubble Space Telescope.
The former NASA chief, Sean O'Keefe, decided to cancel the last service mission to extend Hubble's life, because he thought it was too risky in the wake of the Columbia disaster.