Less than a day after grounding future space shuttle flights, NASA officials say it appears Discovery escaped serious damage when foam came off the oribitor’s external fuel tank.
The shuttle got a clean-bill-of-health after an inspection earlier today as it docked with the International Space Station. Controllers and astronauts onboard the ISS viewed the underside of the shuttle as it approached the space station. On the ground in Houston, flight director Paul Hill says NASA is concentrating on the current mission, not the uncertainty of future flights. “We don’t have the luxury of sitting around a thinking about what this means to the program or what are we going to do after 114,” says Hill. “We’re still in the middle of living 114 and that by itself is pretty effective in keeping the team’s focus.”
Engineers had been worried about possible gouges in the shuttle, but didn’t see any that caused concern. Flight Operations Manager John Shannon says despite the foam setback, NASA is moving forward. “We’ve had a problem. We flew this flight with assets in a test plan that would go identify if we had any problems and we have found a significant one,” says Shannon. “No one is folding their tents. No one is down in the mouth. We have data and all I see from the team is extreme determination to go fix that problem.”
NASA does say future shuttle’s won’t fly until the agency can figure out why foam falls off the external fuel tanks. The next launch is set for September when Atlantis is scheduled to blast-off on another test flight.