Thursday, May 19, 2011

NASA Reviews Endeavour Tile Damage

Spaceflight Now reports that the orbiter Endeavour suffered "several gouges and dings from apparent debris impacts during launch" on critical tiles.

Quoting LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA's Mission Management Team:

"This is not cause for alarm, it's not cause for any concern," he said. "We know how to deal with these things in terms of how to assess them. We know that if we get to the point where we need some more data for our assessment, we have a plan for going and doing that."

The final report of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board concluded that Columbia was struck on its left wing by falling foam from the external tank, which led to the orbiter's destruction upon re-entry.

With the exception of one Hubble telescope service flight, all subsequent missions have flown to the International Space Station so astronauts would have safe harbor if the orbiter suffered damage during launch and could not return.

The external tank, dubbed ET-122, used on the current mission is a ten-year old model that was slightly damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was pressed into service after Congress mandated an additional Shuttle flight in the NASA Authorization Act of 2008.

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