US shuttle Discovery moves to launchpad
It will be Discovery's second mission since the February 2003 Columbia disaster. Its last trip was in July 2005.Updated: May 20, 2006 08:30 IST
A huge tractor has begun moving the space shuttle Discovery towards its launchpad for a blastoff sometime between July 1 and 19, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.
It will be Discovery's second mission since the February 2003 Columbia disaster. Its last trip was in July 2005.
A massive tractor-vehicle carrying the shuttle started a six-hour trip at 0015 IST (1845 GMT) on Friday, moving at less than 1.6 kilometre per hour to place Discovery on launchpad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Discovery is to carry seven astronauts, including a German from the European Space Agency, to the International Space Station (ISS). The STS-121 mission will be the second and last flight to examine safety improvements aimed at averting another calamity.
Columbia's demise was blamed on a piece of foam that peeled off an external fuel tank and pierced the left wing's protective skin, causing it to burn up and disintegrate as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.
NASA modifications are aimed at minimizing the risk of foam coming off the tank.
In the first flight since the Columbia disaster, a piece of foam fell off Discovery's external tank shortly after blastoff but did not strike the orbiter.
NASA grounded the shuttle fleet to fix the problem.
The next shuttle mission also will bring supplies to the ISS and material to finish its construction.
The mission's commander is Steve Lindsey and the pilot is Mark Kelly.
First Published: May 20, 2006 08:30 IST