Is Discovery ready?

Nasa tested controls in Discovery`s external fuel tank for a second time on Friday in preparation for the first shuttle launch since the fatal breakup of &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Columbia in 2003. "Everything went without a hitch this time," said space shuttle program manager Bill Parsons. "Nothing we saw today should prevent a launch on July 13."

A valve and a sensor that acts as a fuel gauge failed in tests on April 14, Nasa said, in preparation for the mid-July blastoff, the first day in a launch window. At the end of April, Nasa delayed its mid-May scheduled launch by two months, to address a possibility that ice, formed from humid Florida air on the super-chilled tanks, would break free of the external fuel tank during launch and damage the thermal skin of the shuttle, informs the Gulf Times.

According to the Washington Post, launch director Mike Leinbach acknowledged that another test would use up all the extra time that planners have budgeted for flight preparation and could delay the launch for a week.

The report was the latest twist in NASA's struggle to enhance the shuttle`s safety margins sufficiently to resume flights, which were halted after Columbia disintegrated on reentry Feb. 1, 2003.

On April 29, NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin pushed the launch back from May 22 to July because of concerns that chunks of ice could break away from the external fuel tank during launch and cause catastrophic damage to the orbiter`s heat shielding.

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