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NASA studies possible shuttle-wing problem

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA is studying a possible problem with the thermal shielding on Discovery's wings that could force a delay in this month's launch.

Discovery's seven astronauts climbed aboard the shuttle at the launch pad Wednesday for a practice countdown. At the same time, shuttle managers discussed whether three of the 44 reinforced carbon panels that line the edges of Discovery's wings should be replaced.

The shuttle would have to be returned to the hangar for that kind of work, which would mean a launch delay. Discovery is scheduled to lift off Oct. 23 with a new live-in compartment for the international space station.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said the outer coating on three of the wing panels shows degradation, an issue that the NASA Engineering and Safety Center has been reviewing for the past several months.