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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 October, 2004, 04:02 GMT 05:02 UK
Nasa to resume shuttle missions
By Daniel Lak
BBC correspondent in Miami

Debris from the space shuttle Columbia streaks across the Texas sky Saturday morning, 1 February 2003
Seven astronauts died when Columbia broke up on re-entry
The US space agency (Nasa) says the first space shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster of 2003 is to be launched next May or early June.

All shuttle missions had been suspended pending investigation of the accident, in which seven astronauts died.

Improvements have also been made to the orbiter and its fuel tank system.

Plans to resume the launches in March were put back after hurricanes hit east Florida, where the Kennedy Space Center is located, in July and August.

The Nasa official in charge of human space flight, William Readdy, said the decision to resume shuttle launches next May was a major relief for the space agency.

The hurricane season hit Nasa particularly hard.

Three of the four hurricanes to come ashore in the state swept over or near the Kennedy Space Center on Florida's eastern coast.

Even before the storms hit, Nasa engineers were already warning that work on modifying the shuttles was getting behind schedule.

There was still a chance that the May launch date could be delayed, officials said.

Columbia lessons

The Columbia accident was found to have been caused by damage to the shuttle's wing.

This came about because of heat-shielding foam that broke away from the fuel tank during launch.

The damage went undetected and proved catastrophic when Columbia re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.

Super-heated air got inside the wing and caused the shuttle to disintegrate in flight.

It was the second fatal accident in 113 shuttle missions.

About 28 more missions are planned once launches resume, most to help build the International Space Station.

Critics say the shuttle fleet is too old and too expensive and the station could be put together more effectively by using single-use rockets.

Washington PostNASA Picks May 2005 Shuttle Launch Date - 25 hrs ago
Chicago TribuneNASA targets May for shuttle relaunch - 44 hrs ago
Orlando SentinelShuttle may fly as soon as May - 45 hrs ago
Daily Telegraph Australia NASA to fly again in May 2005 - 46 hrs ago
CNN Shuttle to return to flight in May? - 46 hrs ago
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