NASA says it still hopes to launch Discovery this month but is delaying setting a date because Hurricane Gilbert could disrupt operations at the flight control center in Houston.
In making the announcement Wednesday, the space agency also cited uncertainty about a small hydrogen leak detected in the space shuttle's main engine propulsion system, a problem not considered serious.Rear Adm. Richard Truly, NASA's associate administrator for space flight, said Friday is the earliest a launch date would be set. He said Sept. 26 is the earliest possible target for launching Discovery and its five-man crew.
The hurricane, which churned in the Gulf of Mexico Thursday, was on a course that could take it to the Texas coast near Houston. NASA's Johnson Space Center is located south of Houston, 30 miles inland from the gulf.
"We don't know where the hurricane is going, but we thought it best to wait a day or so, or whatever it takes to make a decision," Truly said.
"Even though Houston doesn't get hit, it is a threat to Houston, and we have people there who have to turn attention to their homes and families, just as other people along the Texas coast are doing," Truly said.
Once a shuttle is launched, the mission is controlled from the Johnson center. Earlier storms in that area have caused flooding, disrupting communications and computer operations at the center.
Truly reported the only open technical issue was a tiny leak detected in Discovery's engine propulsion system during a pressure check last week. He said the exact location of the leak had not been determined.