NASA Planning July 1st Shuttle Launch

Top NASA officials say they are confident that the space shuttle Discovery is ready to go back into space on July first, despite worries expressed by some in the space agency. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Even though mission managers say problems with the external fuel tank's foam insulation have been resolved, others are questioning the decision to launch July 1st. They say the foam problems need more attention, but Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale says the problems are minor.

"I think we have come to the place where the hazard that we have from falling foam is at least commensurate with the other hazards that are involved in space flight. We would like to continue to make improvements in all areas of course, and we certainly will in the foam, but it now seems to be ready, a good time for us to go fly, and we've done an adequate job of addressing these hazards."

The shuttle orbiters are getting old. They were built in the 1980s with 1970s technology, but Hale says the fleet is aging but it's holding up, and it's able to keep doing the heavy lifting in assembling the International Space Station.

"You know about half the International Space Station is physically present on orbit right now, and about half of it is sitting in the processing facility at the Kennedy Space Center awaiting launch. The space shuttle is the only rocket that's capable of carrying the large parts, so, in that sense the International Space Station is completely reliant upon the space shuttle for completion of assembly."

With launch ten days away, Hale says engineers at Kennedy Space Center are working around the clock getting everything ready. Once in orbit, the astronauts will make repairs to the Space Station's external robotic arm control system, and get in some zero-G practice on repairing the orbiter's heat shield using new tools designed for that purpose. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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