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Space Shuttle Atlantis External Tank Hit By Major Hail Storm On Pad

At Launch Pad 39A, the external tank attached to Space Shuttle Atlantis shows damage from hail bombardment during a strong thunderstorm that passed through Kennedy Space Center about 5 p.m. EST on Feb. 26. A full assessment of the storm's impact is under way by NASA officials. Photo Credit: NASA/KSC
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Feb 27, 2007
A major hailstorm has ripped through the Cape Canaveral area causing damage to Space Shuttle Atlantis' critical external tank. NASA has confirmed that the tank has been extensively pitted by thousands of hail strikes and the agency has decided to move Atlantis back to the hanger for inspection of the tank and the orbiter itself.

At a previously scheduled NASA press conference, shuttle program managers updated reporters on the situation as currently known, and the potential impacts on the next scheduled shuttle mission.

At this stage, if the external tank can be repaired in the VAB, the launch of Atlantis on mission STS-117 will take place no earlier than late April after the next Soyuz changeout at the Space Station.

NASA hopes to conduct the inspection and repairs to external tank at the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Kennedy. However, until the tank is fully inspected NASA cannot say whether the tank may need to go back to Lockheed Martin's Michoud facility in New Orleans.

In the event of sending the tank back to Michoud one option available will be to use External Tank-117, which is to be shipped to Kennedy Space Center by mid-April allowing a launch of STS-117 in June.

The other option is to delay STS-117 until after STS-118 slated for launch in the June window. But this will have a major impact on the progress of station construction activities that are currently waiting on the so called "node" to be installed that will allow the international partners to launch their own long delayed research lab modules.

NASA's Space Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale told the NASA press conference that the 2007 schedule will take the whole of 2007 to catch up with, but he expected to have the shuttle manifest back on schedule by the end of the year.

Speaking directly about the damage Hale said we saw "damage 360 degrees around" the external tank, and this was the "worst damage from hail we have ever seen. We have had hail before, but usually quite small causing no damage."

Hale said it was "very clear that a number of areas would need to be repaired on the tank." In addition, "some tiles have suffered damage" on the orbiter and will require detailed inspection and possible repair.

Meanwhile, the two-day Flight Readiness Review at NASA's Kennedy Space Center will continue in parallel with Kennedy Ground Operations assessment of the external tank damage. The Flight Readiness Review board will be briefed midday Wednesday.

Before each mission, top-level NASA officials, space shuttle program managers, engineers and contractors conduct the review approximately two weeks prior to the opening of the launch window. They examine the readiness of the space shuttle, flight crew and payloads to determine if everything is set to proceed for launch.

The Atlantis flight crew will return to Kennedy a few days before the launch of mission STS-117 to the International Space Station, targeted for March 15.

During the 11-day mission, the six-member crew will install a new truss segment, retract a set of solar arrays and unfold a new set on the starboard side of the station. Lessons learned from two previous missions will provide the astronauts with new techniques and tools to perform their duties.

Commanding the STS-117 crew is Rick Sturckow, a veteran of two shuttle missions (STS-88, STS-105), while Lee Archambault will be making his first flight as the shuttle's pilot. Mission Specialists James Reilly (STS-89, STS-104) and Patrick Forrester (STS-105) will be returning to the station. Steven Swanson and John Olivas, both mission specialists, join the crew for their first flight into space.

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NASA Delays Shuttle Atlantis Launch Due To Hail Damage
Washington (AFP) Feb 27, 2007
The US space agency delayed Tuesday the scheduled March 15 launch of the space shuttle Atlantis for at least a month due to hail damage to the orbiter's external fuel tank. A strong thunderstorm swept the Cape Canaveral, Florida, area Monday, pelting the shuttle with hail as it sat at a Kennedy Space Center launch pad, being prepared for a mission to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

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