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NASA postpones Shuttle flight

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The Space Shuttle's return to flight has been delayed by a week, NASA managers said yesterday. Fortunately, the scheduled launch window is big enough to accommodate the delay: it originally ran from 15 May to 3 June, but NASA now says 22 May is the earliest possible date for a launch and warns that there could yet be further delays.

The postponement will give engineers more time to check over new safety measures and changes to the shuttle's design, Reuters reports.

All but one of the modifications to the craft were passed by safety engineers during a review this week, but a 50-foot robotic arm is still awaiting final approval. The arm, which is laden with sensors, will be used to check the underside and wings of the craft for damage, during the flight.

Being able to check for damage during the flight is one of the 15 recommendations made in the aftermath of the Columbia shuttle disaster.

Shuttle manager Bill Parsons and deputy manager Wayne Hale told reporters that they were working towards a 22 May launch date, based on the best information they had. Hale added: "But we are not schedule-driven and we will not launch until we are ready to fly."

Should NASA have to postpone the launch of the shuttle Discovery past 3 June, the next opportunity to get back into orbit is in July, when the next launch window opens. ®

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