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NASA might disregard panel

Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON – NASA may launch space shuttle Discovery next month even if an independent safety commission isn’t convinced the space agency has fixed all the problems from the 2003 Columbia tragedy, NASA’s new chief said Monday.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, in his first news conference, said if his managers convince him the shuttle is safe, he might proceed with launch plans without an all clear from the panel that was created after the loss of Columbia.

Discovery commander Eileen Collins earlier said she didn’t see how NASA could launch without the independent group’s blessing.

Griffin said it’s unlikely NASA and safety advisers will be at odds, but shuttle managers Wayne Hale and Bill Parsons earlier told reporters they could envision a launch without the outside group’s blessing.

A ticking clock makes such a clash possible: NASA aims to launch between May 15 and June 3, but the outside safety group is nowhere near ready to give the OK even though it was planning to make a decision a month before the shuttle was to return to flight.

After an independent accident board chastised NASA for management and technical problems that it said triggered Columbia’s accident, it said 15 recommendations needed to be satisfied before shuttles fly again.

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