January 7, 2011

Discovery Launch Delayed Again

Citing the need for additional repairs to the external fuel tank of the space shuttle Discovery, NASA officials have once again delayed the lift-off of the STS-133 shuttle mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).

"The decision was made today to allow the teams additional time and delay the next launch opportunity out of the early February launch window," the space agency said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

The initial cracks were so big that the insulating foam on top of the damaged struts, or so-called stringers, split open. That is NASA's main concern: Cracking could cause foam to break away during liftoff and slam into Discovery, similar to how Columbia was fatally damaged in 2003 when insulating foam damaged its wing on lift-off.

After hydrogen fuel was discovered leaking from cracks in November, Discovery was returned to the hangar. Engineers are considering reinforcing all 108 struts on the central tank for additional safety after additional cracks were discovered, remarked NASA spokesman Allard Beutel this last Friday.

A manufacturing flaw is suspected as the primary reason for the damages which were found after undergoing X-ray testing of the aging structure before this shuttle's last mission.

NASA reports that the next available launch window would be from February 27 to March 3 as the February 3-10 window became impossible. Space shuttle, Endeavor, is set to take off in April.

One more as yet unscheduled launch could take place in the summer before the entire fleet is retired for good which would mean a total of three remaining, one mission per shuttle.

Image Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux


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