NASA Sets New Discovery Launch Date for July 4

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Astrovan goes toward shuttle Discovery

Space shuttle Discovery astronauts ride in the astrovan on their way to boarding the shuttle at Kennedy Space Center July 2, 2006, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The launch was later halted due to poor weather. Win McNamee/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Win McNamee/Getty Images

For the second consecutive day, thunderheads have forced NASA to delay the launch of the space shuttle Discovery. NASA will try the launch again on the Fourth of July, when weather is expected to improve.


Dark storm clouds and the threat of lightening are keeping space shuttle Discovery on the ground. NASA officials have spent nearly a year getting the spacecraft ready, but for the second day in a row they had to scrub a launch attempt. Everything looked good except the skies over the launch pad. NPR's Nell Boyce reports.

NELL BOYCE reporting:

NASA engineers use some of the most advanced technology in the world to build and launch the space shuttle. But on launch day it all comes down to the uncontrollable forces of nature: clouds, rain, lighting and vultures. The main threat is the weather. Unlike a jet plane, the shuttle has a fragile heat shield that can be easily damaged by rain or lightening. John Shannon heads the mission management team. He says NASA is eager to launch what will be only the second mission since the Columbia disaster three years ago. But he says it's better to be safe than sorry.

Mr. JOHN SHANNON (Mission Management Team): You know, nobody is going to remember that we scrubbed a day or two days a year from now. But if we go launch and get struck by lightening or have some other problem, that will be very memorable.

BOYCE: Shannon says the current plan is to try again on Tuesday, the fourth of July.

Mr. SHANNON: I told the team, before we left the scrub turnaround meeting, what a great gift NASA could give to the nation to return the shuttle to operation on Independence Day.

BOYCE: On Monday, engineers will have to top off some hydrogen in the shuttles fuel cells. Launch director Michael Leinbach also says they'll release the vultures. The big black birds live around the space center. Hitting one of them could fatally damage the shuttle, so NASA has been trying to trap them.

Mr. MICHAEL LEINBACH (Launch Director): The good news is, bad weather keeps birds away. The bad news is, it keeps the shuttle on the ground. We will go inspect the trap today. We're probably doing that right now. We will release every vulture that's in that trap today and re-bait it in preparations for Tuesday's attempt.

BOYCE: As long as they can get the vultures under control, NASA will just have to hope for a break in the clouds. Nell Boyce, NPR News at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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