The space agency Friday set next Saturday as the launch date for Discovery and its crew of five.
The decision on the first of seven shuttle flights planned this year was announced after a two-day review of all facets of the mission by more than 200 managers and engineers. Liftoff is set for 8:10 a.m.
Six hours into the flight, the crew is to release a $100-million Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, which will join two identical orbiting satellites to form a global network for relaying communications between ground stations and the shuttle and other satellites.
The mission will be the third for the shuttle program since the loss of Challenger and its seven crew members more than three years ago. Discovery made the first post-Challenger flight in September, followed by an Atlantis flight in December.
The launch was originally scheduled for Feb. 18, but technical problems forced a series of delays, the most time-consuming being replacement of oxygen turbopumps in all three main engines. That change was made after the discovery of two tiny cracks in a pump assembly in one of Atlantis’ engines following its December flight.
“Our launch teams are not working any significant issues which are expected to impact a launch next week,” said Adm. Richard E. Truly, NASA’s associate administrator for spaceflight.
In addition to deploying the satellite, the astronauts also will monitor four rats that will be used to determine how well injured bones heal in the weightlessness of space.