Rescue Flights Available For Shuttle
Shuttle astronauts will have a Plan B if something goes wrong with the spacecraft when it returns to service. The shuttle (it could be Discovery or Atlantis) will be diverted to the International Space Station (ISS) while a rescue mission is mounted using a second shuttle. "We do plan to have a safe haven capability," Michael Kostelnik, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for both the ISS and shuttle programs, told a conference on the future of the of the shuttle. "Though a second vehicle would not be on the pad and primed to go." The crew of the second shuttle would be trained for the rescue mission, if it became necessary. It's estimated the first crew would have to spend 45 to 90 days on the space station while the second vehicle was readied. Meanwhile, Kostelnik told the conference that improvements to the shuttle's external tank insulation and reinforcement of the leading edges of the wings are underway to try and make the craft as reliable as possible. Shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry 13 months ago after (investigators believe) a piece of insulation fell off the tank and damaged a wing leading edge during liftoff. On reentry, the damage to the wing allowed superheated gas to get inside.