NASA delays first shuttle flight since Columbia disaster

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has delayed by a full week the launch of the first space shuttle since the Columbia disintegration in 2003, saying it needs more time to complete testing and engineering work.

The US space agency said the earliest possible launch date for Discovery is now May 22. NASA earlier set a launch window from May 15 to June 3.

"We will not launch until we are ready to fly," said deputy shuttle manager Wayne Hale.

Shuttle manager Bill Parsons said a two-day design review starting Tuesday approved 19 of 20 major modifications to the shuttle. A brand-new measure to enable astronauts to inspect the shuttle in orbit for any damage from launch debris has yet to be certified.

The ability to conduct in-orbit inspection is among the 15 recommendations put forward by the investigation board of the Columbia accident, which was blamed on a trunk of insulation foam that fell off the external fuel tank on liftoff and damaged the shuttle's wing, causing the disintegration of Columbia during its re-entry. The Columbia crew failed to spot the damage during space flight.

Discovery's prime mission is to test new safety upgrades made after the Columbia disaster and deliver supplies and equipment to the International Space Station.

The shuttle launch window was dictated by the space station's position and NASA's desire for a daylight launch to ensure a better check of the safety of the modified shuttle and its fuel tank. The next launch opportunity occurs in mid-July, when NASA hopes to fly shuttle Atlantis on a follow-up mission.

Source: Xinhua

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