NASA delays Discovery launch to at least Dec. 17

NASA’s latest launch delay for the space shuttle Discovery could push the spacecraft’s final mission into the Christmas holiday, or even postpone it completely until February, agency officials said Wednesday.

Top shuttle program managers met Wednesday to review recent repairs to Discovery’s massive external fuel tank. Based on the discussion, NASA officials decided to forgo any launch attempts until at least Dec. 17, if not into the next launch window in February.

“What we’ve told the agency leadership is that clearly we’re not ready for the Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 window that’s coming up next week,” John Shannon, NASA’s shuttle program manager, said in a news conference this afternoon. “We’ll leave the option open for a launch window for Dec. 17, but a lot of data has to come together to support that.”

A mid-December launch would push Discovery’s planned 11-day spaceflight into the Christmas holiday, something NASA has typically worked to avoid. The agency tries to not schedule any shuttle flights over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays because shuttles in orbit during the year change would need a flight computer reconfiguration, shuttle managers have said.

If NASA is unable to launch Discovery in December, the next clear chance to do so would come in February.

Shannon added that the engineering teams are concerned primarily with understanding the issues and evaluating the risks, and are less concerned with setting any definite launch dates.

“We want to make sure we fully understand the problem before we fully commit to go fly,” Shannon said.

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