NASA has been forced to delay the next launch of a space shuttle until March 2006 because more time is needed to fix a problem with foam flying off the external fuel tank, space agency officials said on Thursday. "From an overall standpoint we think really March 4th is the time frame we are looking at," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations, told a news conference.
The announcement came just a day after some members of an oversight panel accused the agency of compromising safety in the rush to return to flight. NASA is still trying to determine why a large piece of foam broke off the shuttle Discovery's fuel tank during launch last month, Gerstenmaier said. The shuttle Columbia was torn apart when it re-entered Earth's atmosphere on February 1, 2003, after a piece of foam insulation fell off its tank during launch and damaged its wing. All seven of Columbia's crewmembers were killed.
News source: Reuters