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Discovery Launch Postponed

May 18, 1999

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Grounded by hail damage, space shuttle Discovery probably will not lift off on its station-supply mission until Memorial Day weekend.

Discovery was supposed to soar this Thursday. Instead, NASA sent the shuttle back to the hangar for repairs to its external fuel tank.

Technicians discovered 648 holes in the foam insulation covering the tank, more than they expected.

Some of the cavities are so small they do not need to be fixed, NASA spokesman Joel Wells said Tuesday. Most, however, are being sanded or patched to prevent ice from forming when the tank is filled with super-cold fuel.

Engineers feared ice in the cavities could break off during liftoff and damage the shuttle.

NASA still is targeting launch for no earlier than May 27, but the agency is going to be ``hard pressed″ to make that date, Wells said. Shuttle managers figure they will need a week to prepare Discovery for launch once it’s back on the pad.

Discovery is loaded with 1 1/2 tons of equipment for the international space station, which was hoisted into orbit late last year.

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