For the first time in more than a year, engineers switched on the power for the space shuttle Discovery yesterday. This started the long process of preparing the ship for the first post-Challenger flight, targeted for June 2. ``Significantly, we have reached our first milestone here in returning the shuttle fleet to flight status,'' launch director Bob Sieck said.
Many consider this to be a great morale boost among the engineers, giving them confidence that a return to launch is achievable, says John Talone, Discovery flow director. Discovery is one of NASA's three shuttles that have been grounded since Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986.
NASA's schedule calls for rolling Discovery to the launch pad March 7 and test-firing the ship's engines April 7.
Most modifications have been completed except for the installation of a cabin hatch that would permit emergency evacuation. The change is designed to save the crew in certain emergencies, although not an explosion such as the one that destroyed Challenger.