Shuttle grounded until July

Nagging worries about debris

NASA has confirmed that the Space Shuttle's return to flight has been bumped again, this time right out of its original launch window and into July. The craft will no longer launch between 22 May and 3 June. Instead engineers decided to postpone the take-off until July, amid lingering safety concerns.

The space agency says that the delay will "allow for further safety analysis and perhaps the addition of a heater to the external tank to address icing issues".

The decision was taken last night, after a final debris verification review. The engineers determined that further work is needed to "address debris issues", and said that some other items needing attention were discovered during work on Discovery.

Discovery will be the first Shuttle to fly since the Columbia disaster in 2003. A falling chunk of foam damaged the shuttle during take off. When the craft re-entered the atmosphere, that damamge was sufficient to cause Columbia to disintegrate, killing all seven astronauts on board.

"We're going to return to flight, not rush to flight," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. "We're going to do it right." ®

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