Thursday, June 08, 2006


The shuttle will launch during a window between July 1-19.

Michael Cabbage
Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted June 8 2006, 6:31 PM EDT

HOUSTON -- Space shuttle Discovery's astronauts are ready to fly and confident their ship has been made safer, Commander Steve Lindsey said Thursday.

"I haven't seen a decision made that I didn't agree with," Lindsey said. "I think we've done everything we can on the ground and it's time to go flight test."

Lindsey and his six crewmates could be less than four weeks away from a planned launch from Kennedy Space Center during a window extending from July 1-19. A Flight Readiness Review scheduled for June 16 and 17 will choose the precise target date for the first shuttle liftoff in almost a year.

Discovery's 12-day mission has several purposes. First, the flight will continue to test new procedures and hardware designed to improve safety after the 2003 Columbia accident and the launch of sister ship Discovery last July.

Perhaps the single biggest change is the removal of a 34-pound foam ramp from the shuttle's external fuel tank. A one-pound chunk of the ramp broke off during Discovery's last launch and narrowly missed hitting the orbiter.

Thirty-four smaller ramps that pose a smaller debris threat will not modified until a later flight.

"We'd just as soon make one change, flight test it, then go to the next change," Lindsey said.

The flight also will deliver 5,100 pounds of cargo to the international space station and drop off German astronaut Thomas Reiter, who will join the outpost's two other long-term residents. Discovery is scheduled to spend at least eight days docked to the station.

Reiter's stay on the outpost is expected to last about six months, but could be extended if future shuttle flights don't launch on time.

"If you are doing a long a long-term mission to the station, you always have to consider that situation." said Reiter, who spent 179 days aboard the Russian Mir space station in 1995 and 1996.

In addition to Reiter and Lindsey, Discovery's crew consists of pilot Mark Kelly and mission specialists Mike Fossum, Lisa Nowak, Stephanie Wilson and Piers Sellers. Fossum, Nowak and Wilson will be making their first flights into space.

The astronauts are scheduled to arrive at KSC on Monday to take part in a practice countdown and other training before next month's planned liftoff. A July 1 launch would occur at 3:48 p.m. With an on-time launch, the mission would be scheduled to land about 10:45 a.m. on July 13 at KSC.

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