Hail Damage To Space Shuttle Causes NASA To Delay Launch

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A hail storm at NASA Kennedy Space Center has damaged the external tank attached to Space Shuttle Atlantis. The damage is severe enough to cause the launch of Atlantis to be delayed at least one month - perhaps longer.

According to Space Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale, a severe, localized thunderstorm developed over NASA Kennedy Space Center yesterday. The storm was rather intense and dropped a lot of golf ball sized hail on the launch pads. That hail was driven by 62 mph gusts.

The hail caused widespread damage to the surface of the foam that covers the Space Shuttle Atlantis' External Tank.

According to Hale "This constitutes the worst damage we have ever seen from hail on ET foam. It is clear that areas will need to be repaired. We will need to move Shuttle back to VAB to assess and then repair damage to foam."

In addition to foam damage, Hale said that about two dozen orbiter tiles suffered some cosmetic surface damage, which may require some repair. Hale also noted that some non-destructive assessments will need to be made of RCC on the leading edges of Atlantis' wings so as to make sure there was no damage there.

NASA expects to start rolling Atlantis back to VAB over weekend or early next week. Hale said that it would be a couple of weeks - at least - before repairs can be accomplished. "If standard repairs are required, that's great" Hale said. But if non-standard repairs are needed the process will take longer.

Hale then said "We no not believe we can make March launch window for Atlantis. We are looking at a late April launch - following Soyuz departure from ISS on 20 April". That window would extend through the end of May when beta angles become an issue that would prevent a launch.

NASA will continue with the Flight Readiness Review (FRR), which is currently underway. Once repairs are complete, NASA will conduct a "delta FRR" to review repairs made to Atlantis and its tank.


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