NASA set for its first night shuttle liftoff since 2002

November 30, 2006|By ORLANDO SENTINEL

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's first night space shuttle launch in more than four years is officially set for Dec. 7.

Wrapping up a two-day Flight Readiness Review yesterday, NASA officials identified no outstanding shuttle issues that would prevent Discovery from lifting off next week on a mission to the International Space Station. Countdown clocks at the Kennedy Space Center are scheduled to start ticking late Monday toward a 9:35 p.m. launch three days later.

"We're ready to resume night launches," said Wayne Hale, NASA's space shuttle program manager. "We're looking forward to a really spectacular launch coming up."

While Discovery is poised for liftoff, engineers are troubleshooting a pair of station issues.

A breaker tripped on one of two circuits that drives a motor needed to rotate the station's solar arrays. The panels can track the sun for maximum power generation. NASA managers have yet to determine how the problem could affect the shuttle mission.

Engineers also are investigating why an engine firing yesterday designed to raise the station's orbit aborted prematurely. Another boost is needed before launch to put the outpost in the proper position for Discovery's rendezvous on the flight's third day.

The mission must launch by Dec. 26 or wait until Jan. 14 because of spacecraft heating issues associated with the station's orbit. NASA managers also want to avoid having Discovery in space during the rollover from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1 because of concerns about possible problems arising in the shuttle's flight software. Mission managers will have to consider that issue if the launch slips past Dec. 17.

The launch will be NASA's first at night since November 2002. Daylight requirements have been in effect since the Columbia accident in February 2003.

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