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Shuttle Discovery switches on power - a first step

For the first time in more than a year, engineers switched on the power for the space shuttle Discovery yesterday. This started the long process of preparing the ship for the first post-Challenger flight, targeted for June 2. ``Significantly, we have reached our first milestone here in returning the shuttle fleet to flight status,'' launch director Bob Sieck said.

Many consider this to be a great morale boost among the engineers, giving them confidence that a return to launch is achievable, says John Talone, Discovery flow director. Discovery is one of NASA's three shuttles that have been grounded since Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986.

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NASA's schedule calls for rolling Discovery to the launch pad March 7 and test-firing the ship's engines April 7.

Most modifications have been completed except for the installation of a cabin hatch that would permit emergency evacuation. The change is designed to save the crew in certain emergencies, although not an explosion such as the one that destroyed Challenger.

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