August 13, 2009

Foam Insulation Being Tested Prior To Discovery Launch

NASA on Thursday announced it would be investigating the durability of foam insulation for fuel tanks on space shuttle Discovery prior to its launch scheduled for later this month.

The new test shows how much NASA's perspective has changed since the Columbia disaster in 2003, which was caused by a piece of insulation that damaged the left wing heat shield, causing it to explode upon re-entry.

In recent missions, NASA has reported minor issues with flying pieces of foam insulation, but none have caused any problems with missions.

Other than the insulation, "the vehicle is in great shape and we are ready to proceed for the new flight readiness review next Tuesday," shuttle program manager John Shannon told reporters.

Discovery will launch on August 25, carrying seven astronauts to the International Space Station.

The craft will carry Nicole Stott to the ISS, where she will replace Tim Kopra and live for three months.

"It's a big flight to fully utilize the ISS," said space station deputy program manager Kirk Shireman.

Discovery will also carry food and supplies as well as a freezer for test results to the orbiting outpost.

Crewmembers have already begun a process called sleep-shifting to change their daily routine in order to prepare for the mission schedule.

Additionally, the craft will carry an exercise treadmill, named COLBERT for TV personality Stephen Colbert.

"With six people on board it's hard to schedule running time on the treadmill for all the crew members so now we'll have two treadmills up there," Shireman told AFP.

With the 2010 deadline coming for NASA to retire its shuttle fleet, the space agency is in a race against time to finalize its scheduled updates to the ISS.

"If we planned for more flights there will be significant work to re-start the process," said Shireman.


Image Caption: The STS-128 mission remains targetted for launch on Aug. 25. The Leonardo module has been loaded into the payload bay of space shuttle Discovery for the flight. The shuttle, seen here soon after arriving at Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week, is to fly to the International Space Station during the STS-128 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder


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