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Old June 17th, 2006, 03:18 PM  
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Talking NASA Picks July 1 for Shuttle Flight

NASA Picks July 1 for Shuttle Flight
By MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press Writer
1 hour ago

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA managers on Saturday picked July 1 to launch the first space shuttle in almost a year for a test-flight mission that will try out inspection methods and repairs that were devised following the Columbia disaster.

The launch of the seven crew members aboard Discovery in early July improved the chances that the 12-day mission would be extended by a day to add an important third spacewalk. The launch date was picked after two days of meetings by scores of NASA's top managers and engineers at the Kennedy Space Center.

The most contentious debate at the meeting focused on whether the shuttle's external tank should undergo further changes in 34 areas called ice-frost ramps. About 35 pounds of foam already have been removed from an area of the tank where a 1-pound piece of foam fell off during last July's launch of Discovery. NASA described it as the aerodynamic change ever made to the shuttle's launch system.

Some members of NASA's safety office said at the meeting that the shuttle shouldn't fly until more foam around the ice-frost ramps are removed. Top managers, however, countered that the shuttle should fly with only one major modification to the tank at a time.

"At the end of the day, some people had reservations and they expressed their reservations," said Wayne Hale, NASA's space shuttle program manager.

Flying foam off the external tank struck a wing of Columbia during its launch in 2003, allowing fiery gases to enter the shuttle and kill the seven-member crew members during descent.


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