Risky mission:

Despite warnings of a possible accident, America’s space shuttle Discovery is poised to undertake the most challenging construction job yet attempted in space. It is another gutsy call by NASA administrators, who are determined to finish building the international space station by 2010, the date the aging shuttle fleet is scheduled to be retired.

This will be an extremely strenuous mission. The seven astronauts aboard Discovery, working with the three crew members aboard the partly finished space station, will attach a new “room” to the space station for the first time in six years. It is a small module, the size of a closet that will allow laboratories from Europe and Japan to be attached

to the space station on future flights. A nail-biting element was added when NASA’s engineers urged that the launch be delayed for two months so that three heat-resistant panels on the shuttle’s wings could be replaced or at least tested more thoroughly.

After vigorous debate, however, NASA’s top managers concluded that the risk was acceptable. The astronauts endorsed the decision to launch. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. Another shuttle catastrophe would not only cost the lives of astronauts, it would also probably end the shuttle programme and greatly delay completion of the space station. — International Herald Tribune