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NASA chief: Shuttle back in space by April

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 16, 2003

WASHINGTON - NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe said the space shuttle fleet should be able to safely return to orbit no later than April.

O'Keefe said most of the issues to be addressed in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report have been openly reviewed by the board and NASA is taking action.

"There is nothing that we have seen so far that will preclude" a return to space in six to nine months, O'Keefe said.

The administrator said the agency is looking at ways to make repairs in orbit if a space shuttle is damaged during launch. He said the agency also is redesigning part of the space shuttle external fuel tank to assure that a large chunk of insulation will not fly off and hit the shuttle during launch.

Also Tuesday, NASA officials said they will create an independent safety center to examine space agency programs and projects.

The Engineering and Safety Center will be a way for NASA staff to report safety issues to management.

It will be based at NASA's Langley Research Center but will involve about 250 people throughout the agency.

NASA has learned during the investigation of the Columbia shuttle disaster that there is a need to independently verify its engineering and safety standards, O'Keefe said.

"This is an important element of what we have heard from the deliberations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board," O'Keefe said.

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