Hail damage forces Shuttle retreat

Hail damage forces Shuttle retreatNASA officials have announced that Space Shuttle Atlantis will roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repair after Monday’s hail storm.

“This constitutes the worst damage from hail that we have seen on external tank foam,” said Wayne Hale, manager of the Space Shuttle Program.

Hale said that a number of areas need to be repaired and are not accessible at the launch pad.

The vehicle’s slow journey back to the Vehicle Assembly Building will take place over the weekend or early next week. This will give the technicians an opportunity to give the space shuttle an intensive look at the damage and evaluate what it will take to repair it.

“It will be about a month before we can talk about heading back to the launch posture,” said Hale, “given the repair schedule and the ISS requirements.

The next launch window opportunity opens in late April and extends out to the later part of May.

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.

Before each mission, the review is conducted by top-level NASA officials, space shuttle program managers, engineers and contractors 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.

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.

From NASA

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