NASA may delay next space shuttle flight - again

  • Cape Canaveral (FL) – The space shuttle Discovery is going through a thorough review of the shuttle’s readiness for flight, possibly further delaying its launch and STS-119 mission. NASA engineers said that they will collect more data and run "possible" tests on the space shuttle to understand what caused damage to a flow control valve on its sister ship, the space shuttle Endeavour, during its November 2008 flight. 

    "We need to complete more work to have a better understanding before flying," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations at NASA headquarters in Washington who chaired a recent Flight Readiness Review. "We were not driven by schedule pressure and did the right thing. When we fly, we want to do so with full confidence."

    Engineers are currently investigating what caused the damage to a flow control valve on shuttle Endeavour during its November 2008 flight. The shuttle has three flow control valves that channel hydrogen between the external fuel tank to the main engines. There are also questions what the consequences may be if a valve piece were to break off and strike part of the shuttle or its external fuel tank.

    In early February, NASA decided to move the STS-119 launch from February 22 to February 27. Following a previously announced delay from the originally planned launch date of February 12 to February 22. With a new meeting to discuss the launch set for February 25, the new date may be in question as well, as it takes multiple days to take the shuttle from its main building to the launch site and prepare it for lift-off. NASA said that it “may consider” setting a new target launch date after its February 25 meeting.

    The STS-119 crew is scheduled to fly the S6 truss segment and install the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station: The payload will include two solar array wings, each of which has two 115-foot-long arrays, for a total wing span of 240 feet, including the equipment that connects the two halves and allows them to twist as they track the sun.

    Altogether, the four sets of arrays can generate 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to provide power for more than 40 average homes. The new devices will be able to provide to double the amount of power available for scientific research, NASA said.

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