NASA senior managers on Saturday cleared the Space Shuttle Discovery for a July 1 flight to the International Space Station.
The decision was announced after a lengthy Flight Readiness Review, a traditional meeting in which top NASA managers and engineers set launch dates, determine whether the shuttle’s complex array of equipment, support systems and procedures are ready for flight and assess any risks associated with the mission.
“We had two full days of an intensive Flight Readiness Review,” said Administrator Michael Griffin. “It was spirited and one of the most open, yet non-adversarial meetings I’ve seen since returning to NASA.”
William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Space Operations said “It was a tremendously good review. We were really careful in this. We reviewed everything we could and we think we are ready to go and fly.”
“The ice frost ramps were one of the most vigorously discussed items. This [foam loss], is what we expect to see in flight. So when we get this data down, you should not be surprised,” continued Gerstenmaier.
The ice/frost ramps are structures made of insulation foam that cover 34 brackets on the outside of the shuttle’s external fuel tank. The ramps have been cited as a potential source of foam loss, which could cause damage to the shuttle. The Flight Readiness Review board decided the current design does not pose sufficient risk to delay the upcoming mission while design improvements for later flights are under way.
“We are not tracking any major issues which would delay launch,” said NASA Launch Director, Mike Leinbach. “Our countdown starts on June 28 leading to T-0 on July 1. We see no reason why we can’t go July 1 from our perspective. We are in good shape with Discovery on the Pad and good shape with Atlantis as well.”
The STS-121 mission will visit the International Space Station and continue evaluating new shuttle safety improvements. At least two spacewalks are planned during the 12-day mission, which also includes repair work to the station.