NASA is now targeting March 2006 for the next Space Shuttle mission, STS-121. This will be the second test flight to the International Space Station in the Shuttle Return to Flight series. NASA Administrator Mike Griffin and Associate Administrator for Space Operations William Gerstenmaeir made the announcement at a briefing on August 18th.
A pair of “Tiger Teams” continues to investigate the External Tank foam loss during Discovery’s launch on July 26. Gerstenmaier says the teams have identified the major areas of concern and are making good progress on dealing with the problems.
Discovery will be used for STS-121 instead of Atlantis, putting NASA in a better position for future missions to the Space Station. Atlantis will fly the following mission, STS-115, carrying Space Station truss segments which are too heavy to be carried by Discovery. By changing the lineup, the program won’t have to fly back to back missions with Atlantis, as was previously scheduled.
Meanwhile, at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California, final preparations are underway for Discovery’s return to Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The orbiter will be attached to one of NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for the cross-country ferry flight, currently scheduled to depart in the morning Friday, Aug. 19. The pair could arrive in Florida as early as Saturday afternoon.