The U.S. space agency NASA says it will launch the space shuttle Discovery on May 15.

It will be the first shuttle launch since the fleet was grounded after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated while returning to earth from a mission in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Columbia's left wing was damaged during liftoff when a piece of foam insulation from the external fuel tank punched a hole in the orbiter's wing, allowing searing hot gases into the shuttle when it re-entered the atmosphere.

In case of an emergency with Discovery, NASA officials say the astronauts will board the International Space Station.

Officials say the Atlantis shuttle, set for blastoff in July, could be launched as a rescue craft as early as June 14.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.