07:06 PM

Shuttle Discovery Launch Delayed

External fuel tank repairs are in process and NASA says the earliest Discovery will make its final trip to the International Space Station is Dec. 17.

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NASA managers have delayed the launch of the space shuttle Discovery to Dec. 17, saying more repair work is needed before the spacecraft can make its final trip to the International Space Station.

NASA said Wednesday that repairs on two, 21-foot support brackets that are part of Discovery's external fuel tank are not yet complete. Work on the U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, will continue through next.

The NASA review board responsible for evaluating the readiness of the spacecraft is scheduled to meet Dec. 2 to evaluate the repair work. If the board clears Discovery for the trip, then blastoff would be scheduled for Dec. 17, with the preferred time being 8:51 p.m. Eastern time.

NASA had delayed the flight earlier this month until Nov. 30, after Discovery suffered a series of mechanical glitches. Besides the bracket problems, the spacecraft also had a hydrogen leak that posed a significant safety risk. The leak has been repaired. Discovery was originally scheduled to lift off Nov. 5 from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. The space shuttle entered service in 1984, and is one of three remaining shuttles of the six originally built. Atlantis and Endeavour remain in service, while Challenger and Columbia were lost in accidents that claimed the lives of their crewmembers. The first shuttle, Enterprise, was a test vehicle that was retired shortly after its initial series of suborbital flights in 1977.

The shuttle program is expected to end in February when Endeavour takes to the skies for the final time. President Obama earlier this year ordered NASA to turn over low-orbit flights to private contractors and focus more on deep space missions and research.

Discovery will carry a six-member, all-U.S. crew on its final voyage, officially known as STS-133. Commander Steve Lindsey, 50, of Temple City, Calif., leads the team, and the pilot is Eric Boe, 45, of Atlanta. Also on board will be mission specialists Alvin Drew, 47, of Washington, D.C., Tim Kopra, 47, of Austin, Texas, Michael Barratt, 51, of Camas, Wash., and Nicole Stott, 47, of Clearwater, Fla.


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