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NASA sets July 13 as date to return to shuttle flight

Associated Press
Published July 1, 2005

CAPE CANAVERAL - NASA set a launch date of July 13 for the first shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster 21/2 years ago, saying Thursday that the agency's best minds have made the spacecraft as safe as possible.

"We are being as smart about this as we know how to be, but we are up against the limits of our human knowledge," NASA administrator Michael Griffin said in pronouncing space shuttle Discovery ready for liftoff. "If someone wants more, they're going to have to find smarter humans."

The space agency set the date after more than two years of frustrating delays, setbacks and modifications to the shuttle, and a two-day, high-level review of whether Discovery is ready.

"Based on a very thorough and very successful flight-readiness review, we're currently "go' for launch of Discovery on July 13," Griffin said.

Launch director Mike Leinbach said his team was celebrating with hearty backslaps. "It's a great, great feeling to be less than two weeks from launch," he said.

This week, an advisory panel concluded that NASA failed to meet three of the 15 safety recommendations issued by the Columbia accident investigators in 2003. Despite many improvements, the shuttle is still vulnerable to pieces of foam or ice falling off the external fuel tank at liftoff, and the astronauts still have no reliable way of fixing damage to their ship's thermal shielding once in orbit, the group said.

But Griffin and others at NASA said they believe those risks have been reduced to an acceptable level. "We've done what we can do to minimize that based on the state of our knowledge today," Griffin said.

Discovery will carry seven astronauts to the international space station, along with sorely needed supplies and replacement parts. If Discovery suffers irreparable damage en route, the astronauts will move into the station and await a rescue by Atlantis.

[Last modified July 1, 2005, 01:25:06]

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