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In The Midst Of Heavy Weather, NASA Tries To Stay On Time

But Hurricanes May Delay Shuttles' Return To Flight

Virtually no place in Florida has escaped nature's wrath this summer -- and that includes Cape Canaveral. Because of poundings from Hurricanes Charley and Frances, NASA is now about a week behind on its schedule for returning the space shuttles to service -- hopefully in March or April.

"Can they make that up?" asked Thomas Stafford, the Apollo astronaut who's now co-chairman of the group overseeing the return to flight. "It's too early to say. It was a tight schedule to start with, and the facility survey is still going on," he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

As we reported earlier this month, NASA took quite a bit of damage during Hurricane Frances. Much of it was sustained by the Vehicle Assembly Building (above, before Hurricane Frances), which lost thousands of square feet in siding.

Last week, work on the newly-redesigned external fuel tank, underway at the Lockheed-Martin plant near New Orleans. "The impact there is... at least a week, and that's assuming no damage from the storm," said former shuttle astronaut and task force co-chairman Richard Covey.

And, don't look now, space fans, but Jeanne is still out there, still a threat to the Space Coast.

But compared to the technical issues that still must be overcome before a return to flight, weather delays seem rather mild. So far, NASA has met five of the 15 goals set forth by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). Repairs and modifications could cost upwards of $2.2 billion.

FMI: www.returntoflight.org

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