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Discovery back at launch pad

india Updated: Jul 01, 2006 12:43 IST
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NASA hopes the weather will clear for Saturday’s Discovery shuttle lift-off, a mission the space agency is going ahead with despite persistent doubts about safety three years after the Columbia tragedy.

The US space agency has taken every step possible to protect the lives of its seven astronauts on their way to the International Space Station (ISS).

A glitch-free mission is essential to the future of the US space programme as another major incident may immediately shut down the 25-year-old shuttle programme, which is set to retire in 2010.

More than 100 cameras have been placed on ground locations and on aircraft to film the shuttle as it blasts off to check for any loose foam, the debris that led to Columbia’s demise in February 2003 and fell off Discovery last year without harming the shuttle.

In Saturday’s flight, just the second since Columbia, the astronauts will have the option of abandoning ship if the shuttle suffers irreparable damage and take refuge in the ISS while waiting for rescue.