Originally created 12/10/97

Next Shuttle launch delayed



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA has delayed next month's space shuttle flight to Mir, leaving American astronaut David Wolf on board the Russian outpost for at least an extra five days.

Endeavour was supposed to blast off Jan. 15. Launch is now set for no earlier than Jan. 20, NASA announced Monday.

Wolf, who's been living on Mir since late September, was notified of the delay over the weekend.

Russian space officials asked NASA to delay the mission to allow time for additional work on the Mir station, including the arrival of a supply ship and three spacewalks, said NASA spokesman Rob Navias.

At the same time, NASA ran into shuttle trouble.

Technicians discovered numerous gouges on Columbia's thermal tiles after the shuttle returned to Earth on Friday from a two-week science mission. Engineers believe the damage occurred during liftoff on Nov. 19, but want a better understanding of what happened before clearing Endeavour for flight.

In addition, one of Endeavour's cargo bay doors was dented Saturday when a weld on a support beam broke and the brace fell on the door.

Besides picking up Wolf, Endeavour will drop off his replacement, astronaut Andrew Thomas, who will be the last American to live on Mir.