NASA: All Systems Go for Discovery Launch

All systems are "go" for a July launch of space shuttle Discovery, NASA officials said Wednesday after a two-day review of the dangers posed by foam falling off the vehicle's external tank.

NASA managers and engineers have concluded that the risk from falling foam is acceptable and that any foam fragments would be significantly smaller than the 1-pound piece that fell off Discovery last year, said Wayne Hale, shuttle program manager.

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An even larger piece of foam fell off the tank during Columbia's liftoff in 2003, causing a breach in a wing that allowed fiery gases to shatter the spacecraft during re-entry. All seven astronauts were killed.

Discovery's launch, sometime between July 1 and July 19, will be only the second shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster.

"We have found no show stoppers," Hale said after the first-of-its kind meeting involving 100 engineers and managers. "We believe we have made significant improvements since last year in the elimination of many of the hazards from foam."

For the upcoming flight, engineers removed 37 pounds of foam from the tank, the greatest aerodynamic change ever made to the shuttle's launch system. Despite those improvements, some foam still will come off — most likely from 34 areas called ice-frost ramps, Hale said.

NASA is working to redesign the tank further for future flights to eliminate the risk of foam falling from the ramps.

Two other important meetings are scheduled before the final green light is given for a July launch. A review of the tank's design change is set for next week, and the flight readiness review meeting will be held in two weeks.