Space Shuttle Discovery and the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft landed safely at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma at 2:35 p.m. EDT for a 2-hour refueling stop. Weather permitting, they will then continue the cross-country ferry flight to an overnight stop at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Plans call for Discovery to arrive at Kennedy Space Center in Florida late Saturday morning.
Flying ahead of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft by about 100 miles is a “pathfinder” KC-135 aircraft, which monitors the weather in the flight path for the 747’s crew.
NASA announced yesterday that the next Space Shuttle mission, STS-121, is now targeted for March 2006. 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.
“We are giving ourselves what we hope is plenty of time to evaluate where we are,” said Administrator Griffin. “We don’t see the tasks remaining before us being as difficult as the path behind us.”
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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.