NASA’s window to launch shuttle Discovery closes in mid-March
North American Space Agency (NASA) is planning to lift off space shuttle Discovery on March 12. The mission is long overdue for take off. Delays caused by valve malfunctions have halted the mission for nearly a month now.
If shuttle discovery fails to lift off on March 12, NASA will have to wait till April to get it off the ground again, until after Russian rocket Soyuz takes off for crew change-over at the International Space Station.
The unprecedented precaution that NASA is showing with the delayed launch of space shuttle Discovery serves to show that NASA is finally taking the safety of the manned space flight seriously. Challenger and Columbia disasters have shown that failed missions, which lead to life loss, have the potential to seriously damage the reputation of one of the most reputable space agencies in the world. All the painstaking, cutting-edge work that NASA is engaged in loses relevance in people’s eyes when deadly shuttle disasters happen, drawing a lot of negative publicity and anger. In 1986, space shuttle Challenger was approved for take off despite ice formation on the shuttle’s fixed service structure, which was an obvious threat to the shuttle’s safety. Challenger was similarly delayed on numerous occasions. It is rumoured that NASA engineers still gave the mission a go because of NASA's desire to stick to the original schedule.
Now, it seems safety is finally taking prevalence over scheduling and budgets. NASA is starting to realize that taking any more chances with shuttle missions may damage the agency's reputation permanently.
NASA is aiming to launch the space shuttle Discovery next month after repeated delays caused by critical valves.
Shuttle managers said Wednesday they hope to launch on March 12, a full month after the original launch date of Feb. 12.
If the shuttle isn't flying by March 13 or 14, it will have to wait until April to make way for a Russian Soyuz rocket that's supposed to blast off with a fresh crew for the International Space Station.
NASA kept postponing the launch after having problems with hydrogen gas valves.
While the launch is "tentatively targeted" for March 12, an exact date "will be determined as work progresses with the shuttle's three gaseous hydrogen flow control valves," the space agency said in a statement late Wednesday.
The shuttle's valves have come under close scrutiny since a valve aboard space shuttle Endeavour was found to be damaged after its 16-day mission to the orbiting ISS in November.
The Discovery launch was initially scheduled for February 12. It was delayed until February 19 and then again until around February 27.
A fourth delay was announced February 21, with no date set for a launch.