NASA chief says space shuttle launch target is firm

Despite new safety concerns raised by a space advisory group, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said Tuesday the first U.S. manned spacecraft since the 2003 Columbia disaster is ready for blastoff July 13.

"What I know now, we're ready to go," Griffin told the House Science Committee.

His remarks came as an outside NASA advisory panel -- named to monitor NASA's preparation for space flight since the Feb. 1, 2003, Columbia tragedy that took seven lives -- said NASA had failed to meet three of the 15 safety recommendations for flight renewal. Nevertheless, it did not recommend whether the manned program should resume.

A final review of technical experts will be made Thursday, Griffin said, but as of now the Shuttle Discovery is on track for a July 13 launch. Griffin also said a study is underway to determine whether to send a manned mission to repair the Hubble space telescope that has faulty gyroscopes and other instruments. Griffin said he should make a decision on a repair mission this fall.

Griffin revealed that the administration, including Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, is proposing an amendment to the 2000 Iran Nonproliferation Act so the United States can continue cooperating with Russia and use Soyuz capsules for crew rescues from the international space station. Without a change in the act, U.S. access to the space station could end after next April.

The act prohibits the United States from bartering or buying Russian services until President Bush certifies the Russians are not aiding Iran with nuclear or missile technology. The Science panel says certification is unlikely.

In a letter the committee released from Griffin and Rice, it said "the proposed amendment will seek a balanced approach which maintains U.S. nonproliferation principles and objectives, while also maintaining the U.S.-Russia space partnership." Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who played a role in drafting the act, said "it was a worthwhile effort at the time" to put pressure on Russia to stop cooperating with Iran but added, "The strategy has not worked."

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