Space shuttle Discovery arrives at launch pad
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: April 7, 2005
The shuttle Discovery has been hauled to launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, the first shuttle "rollout" since Columbia's ill-fated mission and a major milestone on the road to resuming shuttle flights in May.
The glacial, 1-mph trip to the launch pad began at 2:04:36 p.m. EDT (1804:36 GMT) Wednesday after a brief delay to discuss a hairline crack seen in the insulation covering Discovery's external fuel tank.
Engineers decided the two-inch-long crack did not require repair and a powerful Apollo-era crawler-transporter slowly hauled the shuttle and its mobile launch platform out of the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building and into a brilliant spring sky.
Looking on were scores of space center employees, reporters, tourists aboard visitor's center buses and even the crew of the international space station, which passed almost directly overhead around 4:30 p.m. EDT. If all goes well, Discovery will dock with the station two days after launch on the 114th shuttle mission.
The move was interrupted just after nightfall when the shuttle reached the launch pad ramp. A problem with the system that keeps Discovery and mobile launch platform level during ascent up the incline experienced a faulty electronics card that had to be replaced. Rollout resumed a few hours later and Discovery's launch platform finally came to rest atop the pad pedestals at 1:16 a.m. EDT this morning.
Rollout originally was planned for late March, but the 4.2-mile trip was held up because of minor processing snags and technical issues that used up most of the contingency time built into the schedule to handle unexpected problems at the pad.
By rolling to the pad Wednesday, NASA can still, in theory, launch Discovery as early as May 15. But any additional problems almost certainly will delay launch. NASA has until June 3 to get Discovery off the ground on the first post-Columbia mission or the flight will be delayed to at least July 13, the next available daylight launch opportunity to the international space station.
As engineers in Florida were preparing Discovery for its long-awaited trip to the pad, the shuttle's crew and flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston were practicing re-entry procedures in a series of morning simulations riddled with mock failures and problems.
Speaking to reporters in mission control, ascent-entry flight director LeRoy Cain said Discovery's rollout was "an important milestone because it's such a collaborative effort to get to this point."
"What I see here is the people and the machinery coming together," he said. "This is a point in time where we begin to converge all of the people with all of the machinery and we move toward a common goal of launching."
Mission commander Eileen Collins said "it's a great sight to see Discovery rolling out to the launch pad. We know we're getting close."
While some outside observers have questioned whether NASA has done enough to fully implement safety recommendations made in the wake of the Columbia disaster, Cain said he has no doubts Discovery's crew and his flight control team are ready to go.
"I'm happy to be here, I'm excited to be here," he said. "We've worked very hard to get to this point. As I said earlier, this team is as ready as any team that I have seen when we're this many days from launch. I feel very confident in our abilities. I don't look at this as closure. I look at this as a new beginning. I consider ourselves ready to go to the next milestone for return to flight."