Nasa to relaunch shuttles two years after 'Columbia'

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The Independent US

Nasa has announced plans to launch the first manned space mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster.

The next shuttle flight is to take place in May 2005 following a series of delays because of damage caused by hurricanes. The space mission will be its first since February 2003, when Columbia disintegrated over Texas killing all seven astronauts.

While Nasa had hoped to launch a flight programme in March and April, delays arose when two summer hurricanes hit the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Further delays were caused by two other storms that resulted in precautionary measures to protect the agency's three remaining shuttles.

The launch window for the flight of the Atlantis shuttle is expected to last between 12 May and 3 June, according to Nasa.

There are 28 remaining flights planned as part of the shuttle programme before the orbiters are to be closed down towards the end of the decade.

The flights planned by Nasa are to complete building the international space station by 2010, according to a date set by George Bush in his moon and Mars exploration plan.

Nasa says it has full confidence it will iron out any safety problems.

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