Prepares for Shuttle Launch Two Years After Columbia Disaster||
Just over two years following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the United
States prepares to resume manned shuttle missions with a trip to the International
Space Station sometime next month.
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launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, scheduled to take place between May 15 and
June 3, is in the final planning stages. Discovery has already made the 4-mile
trip from the assembly building to its oceanfront launch pad at Kennedy Space
Center in Florida.
Final prelaunch preparations include testing the redesigned
external fuel tank, installing the payload which will hold parts, clothing, food
and experiments, and running a full dress rehearsal with the flight crew.
NASA suspended space
shuttle missions after the Columbia disintegrated upon reentry into the Earth's
atmosphere, killing all seven on board, on Feb. 1, 2003.
accident was caused when a piece of foam from the external fuel tank broke off
during liftoff and pierced the heat-resistant tiles on the left wing of the craft.
This allowed extremely hot gases to penetrate the heat shield and melt the structure
to the space shuttle include a redesigned external tank and special equipment
that will allow astronauts to monitor potential damages to the shuttle's exterior
while in flight.
The old external tank design relied on thick pieces of
foam to prevent icing. In the new design, some of that foam has been replaced
with electric heaters to prevent ice buildup.
More advanced imaging equipment
will record the launch of the space shuttle, improving safety by allowing engineers
to more closely monitor possible problems with the craft as it enters space.
return to flight|
This upcoming mission is the 114th space shuttle flight and the 31st flight
The crew of seven astronauts will fly to the International
Space Station to test and evaluate new safety procedures. Since the Columbia disaster,
the Russian spaceship Soyuz has been the only way to get people and supplies to
the space station.
of the Soyuz rockets launched April 15, carrying three astronauts -- a Russian,
American and Italian -- to the space station. They will assist Discovery's crew
on its historic flight.
"Our particular part will be conducting a photo
survey of the exterior of the shuttle while it is maneuvering immediately below
us prior to docking," American astronaut John Phillips, who will stay on
the ISS for the next six months, said at a news conference.
future of manned spaceflight?|
While space shuttle flights are the mainstay of the U.S. space program at present,
a new space vehicle is in the works.
President Bush, who has outlined a
vision of establishing a station on the moon and then traveling to Mars, directed
NASA to develop a new Crew Exploration Vehicle by 2014.
president wants the United States to lead the way to the Red Planet, just as it
did when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969.
"The Crew Exploration
Vehicle will be capable of ferrying astronauts and scientists to the space station
after the shuttle is retired. But the main purpose of this spacecraft will be
to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds. This will be the first spacecraft
of its kind since the Apollo Command Module," the president said in January
by Annie Schleicher for NewsHour Extra