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Cause of Space Shuttle Damage May Be Resolved
August 5th 2005

NASA studies methods to repair broken tile on Space Shuttle

Thermal Protection System repair sample box

Engineers have been investigating the possible causes for the “foam shedding” incident that has led to a temporary grounding of future space shuttle flights.  The fleet is grounded until a solution can be formulated for preventing future foam detachment.

Reports indicate the foam dropped away from the location where a small repair was made to a half-inch dent on Discovery’s enormous external fuel tank.  A .9 pound piece of insulating foam became dislodged right at the point two minutes after lift-off. 

Although this piece did not hit the Space Shuttle, this could solve the mystery behind the images caught on tape July 26th.  Cameras showed the large dislodged chunk of foam narrowly missing the Space Shuttle.

The repair was made earlier this year at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans where Lockheed-Martin built the tank.  According to the New York Times a standard sanding and blending process was used to repair the small blemish.    “The hard lightweight insulating foam was sanded around the dent to leave a larger, slightly indented surface.”


This repair and others were easy to spot after the tank was exposed to the sun and the areas became discolored.  Some larger areas may have required carving away foam and pouring in replacement foam, thus rebuilding the entire section.  The contractor kept detailed records of all of the repairs.    

It has been speculated that this type of “repair” could have caused the 2003 Columbia disaster.  Ice builds up on the tanks because 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel freezes the condensation on the exterior of the tanks.    

The foam was needed to protect the super-cooled surfaces from ice buildup.  It was feared the ice would fall off and damage the space shuttle.  Now it appears the foam itself has become the damaging debris.  NASA has recently developed strategies so that large pieces of foam don’t become dislodged.

NASA has cleared the Discovery for return to Earth next week after conducting wind tunnel tests on a thermal “blanket”.  They have determined there is no need to send the astronauts on another space walk to fix this problem. The astronauts have already fixed damage to two tiles that became dislodged. 

If you have any comments or corrections please email me.

By Dan Wilson
Best Syndication Staff Writer

  Space Shuttle Books

Keywords and Misspellings:  Discovery NASA shutle spase fome

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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                                            Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:39 PM