|Discovery arriving at the International Space Station|
This week, the space shuttle Discovery flew to the International Space Station as NASA struggles to meet an important date. A plan to complete the station by two thousand ten is at risk.
This is only the second shuttle flight since two thousand three. In February of that year, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart as it prepared to land. The accident killed the seven crew members.
Now, just short of a year has passed since the return to flight.
Plans call for sixteen shuttle flights by two thousand ten. NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has fallen behind in its effort to reach that goal.
The goal is part of a plan that President Bush announced two and a half years ago to send astronauts to the moon again.
Government money would finance a new spaceship that could take people to the moon by two thousand twenty. The last time anyone went there was in nineteen seventy-two. The plan also calls for traveling to Mars.
But Mister Bush said the first goal was to finish the space station by two thousand ten, to study the long-term effects of living in space. Fifteen other nations are also involved in the space station.
NASA plans to retire its three remaining shuttles once the station is completed.
This week, Discovery became the first shuttle launched on America’s Independence Day. It lifted off with a crew of seven on Tuesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Bad weather had delayed the launch. Also, there had been some concerns about the safety of the foam protective material on the external fuel tank.
During the Columbia launch, a piece of material fell off the fuel tank and struck a wing. The piece weighed more than seven hundred grams. It put a hole in the heat shields and the shuttle came apart on re-entry.
A small amount of foam did come loose from the fuel tank on the Discovery. But officials decided it was not enough to be dangerous. Also, astronauts are examining the heat shields while at the space station.
If any damage were serious, an emergency plan calls for the astronauts to remain on the station. NASA would then send up another shuttle to return them to Earth.
Discovery carried up thousands of kilograms of equipment and supplies. On Friday, crew members connected a big storage container to the station. The Italian-made container is called Leonardo.
The shuttle also brought a German astronaut who will remain on the station for six months. The arrival of Thomas Reiter means a full three-person crew for the first time since May of two thousand three.
The other two crew members, Pavel Vinogradov of Russia and American Jeff Williams, arrived on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in March.
IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Jerilyn Watson. You can download our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.