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NASA aims for shuttle launch late next year

Agency pushes back earlier plans for spring flight

NASA said last month that it planned to launch a space shuttle in the spring, but safety concerns forced the agency to delay those plans.
NASA said last month that it planned to launch a space shuttle in the spring, but safety concerns forced the agency to delay those plans.

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JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- NASA set a September 2004 target date for the next space shuttle launch, CNN has learned.

The space agency decided in recent weeks that it needed more time to develop systems for detecting and repairing damage to shuttles in orbit, forcing the agency to retreat from plans to launch in March or April.

The space shuttle fleet has been grounded since the Columbia disaster in February in which all seven crew members died. Insulation debris from the external fuel tank has been blamed with damaging the leading edge of the left wing soon after launch, which doomed the Columbia as it returned from space.

Modifications to the external tank design, development of a boom to inspect the shuttle's exterior during orbit and kits for repairing tile and wing damage are under way.

The latest launch window is September 12 to October 10, NASA said Friday.

If NASA sticks with its current rotation, the Atlantis would be next in line for space flight.


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