The Discovery is due to blast off in one month's time in the first shuttle mission since the Columbia disintegrated two years ago.As would the entire Shuttle programme. From the Space Review :
Shuttle program deputy manager Wayne Hale says he is confident the new mission will be the safest ever attempted.
"We have substantially reduced the hazard, driven it very, very low," he said.
In case the Discovery is damaged during the launch, the space agency has developed a contingency plan.
The astronauts would shelter in the space station until a second shuttle could be scrambled to rescue them.
The Discovery would then be destroyed.
NASA officials have stated that they need to fly 28 missions to the International Space Station to complete it. Three missions are scheduled for 2005 and four for 2006. This means that NASA has to launch at least five missions each year from 2007 to December 31, 2010, when the program is scheduled to be shut down, plus an extra mission during one of those years. That is an ambitious launch schedule considering that the agency is now down to only three orbiters.With 2 - impossible. Actually, I think that with only 3, it's impossible.
But any delay or major upset, not just a catastrophe, and the Shuttle's not the only programme that's Kaput : the ISS is marginally viable with 3 Orbiters. With 2, it's not. Rand Simberg over at Transterrestrial Musings descibes the whole Shuttle-ISS interdependency as a "Slow Motion Train Wreck", and I can't disagree. I also must sadly agree that his proposal ( go read it ) may be the least worst solution.