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Thu, Mar 05, 2009

NASA Moves Closer To Clearing STS-119 For Launch

Tentative Launch Date Now March 11

After four weeks of delays stemming from a persistent issue with fuel control valves, NASA appears nearly ready to launch the space shuttle Discovery less than one week from now.

NASA Space Shuttle Program managers gave the go-ahead Wednesday for the Flight Readiness Review, or FRR, following an in-depth review of the testing and inspection data from space shuttle Discovery's gaseous hydrogen flow control valves. As ANN reported, those valves -- one for each main engine -- control pressure inside the shuttle's external fuel tank during launch, and were found damaged on the shuttle Endeavour after it returned safely to Earth in November.

While engineers had already replaced those valves for Discovery, NASA wanted to be as certain as possible a valve failure during launch wouldn't lead to a catastrophic event. Managers concluded Wednesday that technicians will not need to add reinforcement to the area known as the elbow bend in the gaseous hydrogen pressure line, which is located near the flow control valves in Discovery’s engine plumbing, to prevent damage from just such a failure.

Following Friday's FRR, managers are expected to announce the official launch date for Discovery’s STS-119 mission. For planning purposes, launch is tentatively targeted for March 11 at 9:20 pm EDT. In anticipation of a launch date, the STS-119 crew has entered quarantine at NASA Johnson Space Center's Astronaut Quarantine Facility, where they will spend the day reviewing their flight plans.

If the March 11 launch date is approved, Discovery's crew will fly to Kennedy on Sunday in advance of the start of the countdown, which would begin at 7 pm EST.

Commander Lee Archambault will lead Discovery's crew of seven, along with Pilot Tony Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Joseph Acaba, John Phillips, Steve Swanson, Richard Arnold and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata.

The Discovery crew members are set to fly the S6 truss segment and install the final set of power-generating solar arrays to the International Space Station. The S6 truss will complete the backbone of the station and provide one-fourth of the total power needed to support a crew of six.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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