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    FIRST POST-COLUMBIA SHUTTLE MISSION DELAYED UNTIL MARCH 2005

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    MOSCOW, February 21 (RIA Novosti correspondent Alexander Kovalyov) - NASA's senior space flight officials decided to delay the first post-Columbia shuttle launch until March 2005. Tentatively, the interval from March 6 to April 18, 2005 has been set as the launch window, says the latest NASA press release.

    The Russian Space and Aeronautics Agency (Rosaviakosmos) does not, however, have any official information regarding the delayed dates of the next US shuttle mission. "We have not received so far any official confirmation of this decision from NASA," head of Rosaviakosmos press service Vladimir Mikhailichenko, said on Friday.

    NASA had planned to resume shuttle missions in September-October 2004. The delay in the launch schedule is put down to a number of reasons. According to NASA, it is necessary to modify the design and then test the system protecting the shuttle body from the impact of pieces of external fuel-tank insulation foam breaking off during lift-off. In addition, NASA engineers need to thoroughly explore efficiency of the controlling elements of the shuttle aerocapture system.

    NASA officials also point out that it is necessary to install a new CCTV camera carrying pole on the shuttle's remote manipulator arm to let the crew have a clear view of the shuttle outer surface during ascent.

    NASA has already named the crew of the next shuttle mission, with Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander in history (accomplished mission in July 1999), appointed as the mission commander. She was in charge of the mission control center on February 1, 2003 when the Columbia shuttle burst to pieces in descent. The six-member crew includes one non-American astronaut - Soichi Noguchi of Japan.

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