The shuttle Columbia, grounded since May, is finally back in service after passing a critical fueling test without springing any dangerous hydrogen leaks, setting the stage for an early December launch try.

With the leak-delayed shuttle Atlantis already cleared for takeoff Nov. 9 on a military mission, Columbia was declared fit for flight Tuesday after test results showed the leaks that grounded the shuttle in May and September had finally been plugged."We ended up with a tight ship, and as far as we're concerned right now the Columbia's ready to go fly as soon as we put it through its final launch preps," said shuttle program manager Robert Crippen.

Columbia skipper Vance Brand said he and his six crewmates were in training and eager to finally take off on a 10-day astronomy mission after enduring four delays since May 30.