Crew repair abilities top list of space shuttle concerns

Published: Saturday, January 29, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2005 at 10:33 p.m.
ORLANDO - While there are no major hurdles to prevent NASA from launching a space shuttle in May or June, a task force overseeing return-to-flight efforts continued Friday to worry about crew members' ability to make repairs in space.
"There are no show-stoppers that we see out there," said Richard Covey, co-chairman of the Return to Flight Task Group. "The issue that may come up is the degree to which feasible repair techniques are available on this mission."
A third report on NASA's return-to-flight progress issued Friday cited crew members' inspection and repair capabilities from space as the task force's biggest concern.
NASA has scheduled a May or June launch window for Discovery, which would be the first shuttle launched since Columbia disintegrated over Texas two years ago, killing seven astronauts.
Discovery's seven astronauts will have a hole-repair kit, although it is uncertified and rudimentary. They also will have the option of moving into the space station to await rescue by shuttle Atlantis in a month's time.
With only four months left, NASA still needs to fulfill eight of the 15 recommendations made by the Columbia accident investigators, the report said.
But NASA is close to completing several of those recommendations and should be able to complete them before the launch window, Covey said.
The task force, headed by Covey, a former shuttle commander and former Apollo astronaut Thomas Stafford, is charged with evaluating how NASA is implementing the recommendations made by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
Members plan to issue a final report in April.
NASA has been using simulation, and other analytical models, to test the changes made to the shuttles' thermal protection system and external tank. But some of those models aren't sufficient to certify the safety of the changed hardware, the report said.
"We have been watching as the agency has reached new levels in use of analytical models," Covey said. "Our caution is, this is great and this is good, but you have to be careful as you go forward to make sure you don't use all the data ... to reach decisions that may not be substantiated."

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