NASA has postponed the launch of space shuttle Discovery's final mission to no earlier than early February – the latest in a long string of delays that have kept the spacecraft grounded for more than a month.
Discovery is now slated to launch no earlier than Feb. 3, with the delay allowing NASA engineers more time to complete work to analyze why small cracks developed in the shuttle's huge external fuel tank. The cracks have since been repaired, but NASA wants to make sure similar issues don't pose a future concern.
Shuttle program managers met Dec. 2 to evaluate the repairs made to Discovery's 15-story fuel tank following the initial scrubbed launch attempt on Nov. 5.
Engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., have been performing tests and gathering data to try to determine what caused the cracks that were found on the metal ribs of the shuttle's external fuel tank. [INFOGRAPHIC: NASA's Space Shuttle from Top to Bottom]
The space agency had hoped for a possible Dec. 17 launch for Discovery, but opted instead to give engineering teams more time to assess all the potential risks.
Discovery's launch has been delayed since early November due to technical and weather-related issues. The shuttle's planned 11-day mission will deliver a storage room and Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot, to the International Space Station. Two spacewalks are also planned.
The mission will be the 39th and last flight for Discovery. It is one of NASA's two final scheduled shuttle flights before the orbiter fleet is retired in 2011. NASA is hoping to launch an additional shuttle flight around June, but is still awaiting final funding approval from a congressional appropriations committee.
This article was reprinted with permission from SPACE.com.
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