NASA plans next Shuttle mission

It will be the first Shuttle flight since a reentry accident destroyed Columbia and killed its crew in February 2003. The agency had been working toward a launch window in March before a series of hurricanes partially crippled operations at several facilities. For instance, space centers in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and the Michoud Assembly Facility, La., all shut down in preparation for one or more of the four hurricanes in August and September. This delayed flight planning.

"After four hurricanes impacted our centers and our workers, it became clear we needed to step back and evaluate our work in respect to the launch planning date," says William Readdy, Space Flight Leadership Council cochair and associate administrator for Space Operations. "We asked the program to go back and evaluate May, and they reported the milestones are lining up. The May launch window is based on solid analysis and input from across all elements of the program."

Major objectives of the flight have also shifted. Instead of concentrating on logistics and personnel rotation for the International Space Station, the crew will test and evaluate new flight safety procedures, including Shuttle inspection and repair techniques.

For more information about NASA's Return to Flight efforts, visit http://www.nasa.gov/returntoflight

The massive Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center lost hundreds of panels in the recent hurricanes.
The massive Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center lost hundreds of panels in the recent hurricanes.

The massive Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center lost hundreds of panels in the recent hurricanes.