NASA Leader Says Space Shuttle Ready For Mid-May Launch

All systems are go for a mid-May launch of NASA's first space shuttle in more than two years. That word came from the man in-charge of NASA's Return to Flight program.

Bill Parsons visited the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County Thursday.

It's been more than two years since one of NASA's space shuttles has left the ground. NASA halted all flights after the Columbia disaster in February 2003.

Leaders now say the Space Shuttle Discovery is ready for lift off.

"For right now, we're well on track to make that May 15th window. It may be a day or two after May 15th, but currently I have enough contingency dates and I have a schedule that shows me launching on May 15th," Parsons said.

Parsons and other NASA leaders say they're confident that Discovery will be launched in that time frame, and launched safely.

"Just because of all the work we've done and all the analysis we've done for return to flight. Each one of these people have taken a personal responsibility to make sure their system, their project, their element is prepared and is safe."

Workers at Stennis Space Center test all space shuttle main engines.

"Stennis has done its job post-Columbia very, very much like pre-Columbia, testing the engines," Stennis Space Center Director Tom Donaldson said.

In addition, some scientists and engineers played key roles in the return to flight program. They tested the safety levels of ice and frost build up on the shuttle.

NASA determined ice build-up was part of the chain of events that caused Columbia to crash.

Donaldson told WLOX News, "When we say Discovery will be the safest launch ever it's because the whole organization has reassessed because of what happened, and redoubled their efforts to make sure it never happens again."

If the name Bill Parsons sounds familiar to you, it should. The Mississippi native served as Director of Stennis Space Center for about a year before being called to head up NASA's return to flight program.

by Al Showers