Friday, July 29, 2005

Shuttle Pains

"(CNN) -- A small piece of insulating foam that came off the space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank may have struck the wing of its orbiter during liftoff. But NASA experts do not believe the foam caused any damage, a NASA official said late Thursday.

Camera footage of the launch showed a piece of foam about 7 inches long and 2 inches wide separate from the tank at an altitude of about 200,000 feet in an upward trajectory toward the wing, deputy program manager Wayne Hale said.

Hale said it was not clear from the videotape whether the foam struck the wing. Sensors on the leading edge of the wing did not detect any impact.

Even if the foam did strike the wing, Hale said NASA's calculations show the impact would have had about one-tenth of the energy necessary to cause damage.

A larger piece of foam also fell off the tank, but NASA officials don't believe it struck the orbiter.
Hale has said that piece measures from 24 to 33 inches long, 10 to 14 inches wide, and 2.5 to almost 8 inches thick -- only slightly smaller than the piece of foam that damaged Columbia's wing.

The space agency announced Wednesday that it would suspend future shuttle flights until engineers understand the falling foam problem.

Falling foam from the external fuel tank of Columbia during its 2003 launch was blamed for damaging the spacecraft, which led to the deaths of seven crew members upon their return to Earth."

So what exactly was NASA doing for the last two and a half years? Fixing everything but the obvious foam problem? And if they take another few years off to fix this problem it'll hardly be worth the effort because the shuttles are supposed to be retired in 2010 anyway. I love the shuttles, but maybe it's about time we move onto the next generation of American space vehicles.

And then back to the Moon, to Mars, and Beyond!

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