NASA examines Atlantis fuel tank foam for hail damage
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: February 27, 2007
Engineers and managers gathered at the Kennedy Space Center today for the start of a two-day flight readiness review faced an unexpected topic of discussion: apparent hail damage to the foam insulation on the shuttle Atlantis' external fuel tank.
A strong thunderstorm rumbled across the Florida spaceport Monday afternoon and officials say closed circuit television cameras at pad 39A showed signs of hail damage to the tank. The extent of the damage and what, if anything, might be needed to repair it, is under assessment.
Hail damage is difficult to repair at the launch pad because of access issues. If Atlantis has to be moved back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs, or to swap tanks, launch could slip to late April. If Atlantis misses the March window and the Soyuz launch stays on schedule, the next available date for a shuttle launch would be around April 20, after the station's current crew departs.
During preparations for shuttle mission STS-96 in 1999, the shuttle Discovery had to be hauled off the pad to repair hail damage to tank insulation. Discovery also had to be moved back to the Vehicle Assembly Building in 1995 to repair foam damage caused by woodpeckers during preparations for mission STS-70.
But as of this writing, it's not yet clear what impact this week's storm might have.
The flight readiness review will assess the hail damage and launch preparations in general. NASA typically sets an official launch date at the conclusion of the FRR. Whether this issue will be resolved by Wednesday remains to be seen.