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NASA rolls shuttle out with eye on Dec. 7

Published November 10, 2006


CAPE CANAVERAL - Space shuttle Discovery was moved to the launch pad Thursday to await a launch that could be as early as Dec. 7 - an effort to avoid potential New Year's Eve computer glitches.

The worry is shuttle computers aren't designed to make the change from the 365th day of the old year to the first day of the new year while in flight. NASA has never had a shuttle in space Dec. 31 or Jan. 1.

"We've just never had the computers up and going when we've transitioned from one year to another," said Discovery astronaut Joan Higginbotham. "We're not really sure how they're going to operate."

Starting Dec. 7, launch windows would be available as late as Dec. 17 or 18. With a 12-day mission, that would have the shuttle back on Earth before New Year's Eve.

However, NASA said even if the shuttle crew finds itself in space on Jan. 1, procedures could be devised to make a transition.

If Discovery gets off the ground next month, it will be the third shuttle flight of the year.

It also will be the first night launch in four years. NASA required daylight launches after Columbia to make sure engineers had clear photos of the shuttle's external fuel tank; falling foam from Columbia's tank damaged its wing, dooming the shuttle and its seven astronauts.

[Last modified November 10, 2006, 01:42:51]

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