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Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

NASA clears shuttle for liftoff next week

October 18, 2007

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— Mission managers late Tuesday cleared shuttle Discovery and its seven astronauts for flight next week, despite lingering concern over tiny cracks in the ship's wings.

Liftoff is scheduled for 10:38 a.m. CDT Tuesday from Kennedy Space Center in Central Florida.

"We looked at everything; we're ready to go fly," Bill Gerstenmaier, an associate administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said Tuesday night at the end of a marathon meeting to review the flight. "We understand the risks that are in front of us."

The cracks were found on three of the 44 carbon composite panels that shield the wings' leading edges from the 3,000-degree heat generated as the shuttle plunges through the atmosphere during its return to Earth.

A breach in shuttle Columbia's left wing allowed hot gases to enter that ship, destroying it and killing its seven astronauts in February 2003. Since then, NASA has intensified its inspections of the wing surfaces and other crucial components.

During the 14-day mission, Discovery's astronauts are assigned to deliver a new module to the still-under-construction International Space Station.

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