Discovery set for May launch

by Chris Bergin

NASA administrator Mike Griffin has said that he expects STS-121 to launch in May, 2006, while also classing the PAL Ramp incident – the reason for a mini-suspension in flights – as “an engineering mistake.”

Shuttle Discovery will lead what is being tagged as Return to Flight 3 in a year that will hopefully see all three of NASA’s Orbiters on missions.

“We’re looking at May,” said Griffin in an interview with the Washington Post. “Of course, if additional bad things happen, we’ll re-evaluate.”

He also paid tribute to the staff of the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in keeping the home of the External Tanks clear of major damage during Hurricane Katrina.

“They kept the diesels running, which kept the pumps running,” Griffin added. “You fly over it and you can see Michoud is an island of green grass in a sea of mud. The eye (of Katrina) passed right over it.”

Griffin also confirmed NASA has found the cause of why a section of the PAL Ramp came off the External Tank during STS-114’s launch. While he refused to officially state the reason, he did give an indication that previous repair work on the area was to blame. – PAL Ramp Article

“If it wasn’t for the PAL ramp, we’d have flown this month,” Griffin added. “It was an engineering mistake. There has been quite of bit of progress and we know why the foam came off.”

This – for the first time – notes the possibility of the PAL Ramp remaining on the External Tank, with sources noting the previous repair work on the ET was missed by a new form of checking the ET’s insulation foam, a process called Shearography – brought in post STS-107 – which is now being re-evaluated.

The NASA head also touched upon the question of continuing the Shuttles operational lifetime past 2010, noting that the commitment is there until that firm date – with the CEV being used to finish off the construction of the International Space Station, should there be any outstanding work to be done – and if the money was available for such missions.

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Check back on Thursday for processing and status updates on Atlantis and Endeavour.

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