The March 2006 target launch date for the next Space Shuttle mission is in jeopardy following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, say Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The storm track passed close to Lockheed Martin’s Michoud site in Louisiana, just east of the flooded city of New Orleans, and swamped the facility responsible for the Shuttle’s external tank.

“The hardware inside is OK, even though the building is surrounded by three feet of water,” says Lockheed Martin Space Systems executive vice-president Tom Marsh. “I think March is going to be really tough, especially since Katrina be-bopped through all that area,” says Boeing NASA Systems Space Shuttle vice-president and programme manager Stephen Oswald.

Despite the almost certain setback to the timetable, Oswald remains confident that “we could still go to three launches in 2006 if we launched in May.” But he says pushing the first launch back even further could seriously reduce the possibilities for more than one or two missions in 2006.

Turning to the post-flight inspection of Discovery, Oswald says: “It was as clean an orbiter mission as we’ve ever had. It had about 20% of the damage we’d normally get.” He says the improvement is “because the [external] tank was a lot better” with “tremendously better performance than we’ve seen before”. The number of serious holes requiring replacement of protective tiles was less than one-fifth of about 150 seen on previous missions.

Source: Flight International