CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA is late in supplying vital information to the task force overseeing the agency's effort to resume shuttle flights for the first time since the Columbia disaster — a delay that could force the postponement of Discovery's launch in May.
A top shuttle official said Friday that it is taking the space agency longer than expected to put together all of the necessary paperwork and documentation, and to complete all the final reviews on the design changes and other improvements made to the shuttle in the wake of the 2003 catastrophe.
Another two weeks of reviews will be needed before that information is available, said Michael Kostelnik, deputy associate administrator for the shuttle and station programs.
"Everybody would have liked to have had this work completed sooner," Kostelnik said. "But it's just kind of the way it is and we're not going to cut short any of these milestones just to make an arbitrary date."
Earlier this week, the task force indefinitely put off a meeting to assess NASA's (search) progress, saying it was still awaiting the necessary data.
NASA continues to aim for a May 15 launch of Space Shuttle Discovery (search), but the chances that the space agency can meet that date are slipping because of the paperwork delay and the many postponements in getting the shuttle to the pad.
Discovery has finally been joined to its booster rockets and redesigned fuel tank, and should be transported to the launch pad on Tuesday.
A piece of fuel-tank foam broke off during Columbia's final liftoff and slammed into the left wing, creating a hole that led to the spacecraft's destruction during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. All seven astronauts were killed.
NASA has from May 15 to June 3 to launch Discovery. Otherwise, it must wait until mid-July for the proper daylight conditions needed to photograph the entire ascent. The Columbia accident investigators insisted on multiple camera views at liftoff in order to check for debris or damage.