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Science & Space

Shuttle return to flight delayed

Launch slips to May or July

Workers continue to patch holes in NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building left by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.
• NASA:  Return to flight external link
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Kennedy Space Center
Marshall Space Flight Center
Stennis Space Center

(CNN) -- Blaming the busy hurricane season, NASA announced Friday that it will delay the space shuttle's return to space from March or April to a launch in May or July.

The mission will be the first for the shuttle since the February 2003 Columbia disaster.

Four Hurricanes passed through the southeastern United States in August and September, closing Florida's Kennedy Space Center for nine days and damaging some facilities. No spacecraft or hardware was damaged by the storms, NASA said.

Hurricane Ivan caused shorter closures at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi; the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama; and the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where external fuel tanks for the shuttle are prepared.

In addition, the space agency said that "many NASA workers and contractors are still coping with damage to their homes and other impacts on their families."

NASA's Space Flight Leadership Council, meeting Friday to discuss the next launch date, decided that the spring 2005 target was "no longer achievable."

NASA officials should instead assess chances of meeting the next launch window opening on May 14, 2005, the council said.

That assessment will be presented at the next council meeting at the end of October.

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