Stennis Directors Talk About Shuttle Delay

In about a month, a white cloud will build over Stennis Space Center. The facility's test stand will put another space shuttle main engine under the microscope. Nobody knows when that engine-- or any other engine tested by Stennis -- will carry astronauts back into space.

"The leader of NASA is very consistent and committed to do what is right," said Thomas Donaldson.

The retired admiral has been director of Stennis for just five weeks. In that time, he's seen rovers touch down on Mars, and he's heard President Bush talk about future space exploration. However, Donaldson is in no hurry to rush a space shuttle into orbit.

"Return to flight isn't a calendar driven event," he told local media members during a one hour talk. "It's when the agency feels and knows that it can do it as safely as possible. That's when we're going to do it."

On Thursday, NASA's chief indefinitely postponed a space shuttle's first trip into space since the 2003 Columbia tragedy. At the media briefing, Stennis' new administrative team talked about that decision.

"The answer is absolutely consistent," deputy director David Throckmorton said. "We're not going to attempt a launch until we're absolutely ready."

Both Stennis leaders said delaying the space shuttle's next mission hasn't slowed down NASA's momentum.

According to Throckmorton, "We will continue to do testing of space shuttle main engines to support return of flight."

Donaldson was just as optimistic.

"There still is very much a buzz of excitement in this organization," he said.