NASA fails to meet safety standards

A panel overseeing NASA's resumption of shuttle flights decided NASA has failed to meet tough safety recommendations issued after the Columbia shuttle break-up in 2003. Nevertheless, panel members said they consider the Discovery shuttle safe enough to fly again.

According to AP, despite exhaustive work and considerable progress over the past 2 1/2 years, NASA hasn’t managed to eliminate the possibility of dangerous pieces of foam and ice from breaking off the external fuel tank and striking the shuttle at liftoff.

Moreover, NASA still does not have a clear idea of all the potential threats from ice, and still lacks a practical way to fix holes and other damage caused by flyaway launch debris, the Stafford-Covey Commission said after the investigation.

It was not immediately clear if NASA would delay its planned July Discovery shuttle launch in light of the task force's assessment. In a statement following Monday's meeting, agency Administrator Michael Griffin said he welcomed different points of view and that he expected "a healthy debate" in this week's flight review by NASA, says AP.

The experts of the 26-membered commission said that overall NASA had complied with 12 out of 15 recommendations laid down by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and considered essential for the resumption of shuttle flights, reports BBC.

Earlier this month NASA moved the space shuttle Discovery back to the launch pad with a safer model of external fuel tank for the first flight since the Columbia disaster in 2003.

The shuttle's 6.4-km trip from the assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, to the seaside launch site, took more than 10 hours because checks on an overheated bearing of the shuttle transporter caused several stops.

Discovery was replaced with a new and safer model of external fuel tank which was intended for Atlantis on the next mission.

A heater was added to the fuel tank to prevent ice buildup on the tank when it is loaded with super-cold fuel. The installation decision forced the removal of Discovery from the launch pad on May 26. The shuttle was first on the launch pad in April for flight originally scheduled for mid-May. Safety concerns have delayed the launch to July 13.

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