NASA Makes Progress Understanding Shuttle Tank Foam Loss

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Friday, October 14, 2005


Engineers are moving closer to resolving the problem of large foam insulation falling off space shuttle external fuel tanks during launch. A "tiger team" is making recommendations addressing the factors that may have contributed to foam loss when the space shuttle Discovery (STS-114) was launched in July.

The next shuttle mission is also on Discovery. It will be the second test flight in the Return to Flight sequence. At a news conference today at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, space shuttle managers emphasized they have not set a specific launch date. NASA is using the May 3 to 23, 2006, launch window as a target for work to prepare Discovery for the mission.

Shuttle workers will likely replace and modify areas of insulation on the external tank where foam came loose during the July launch. Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale said a series of tests over the next several weeks would help further clarify the tank issues. "I think we're beginning to have our hands well around the technical problems we have and we are defining the fixes necessary to fly again," he said.

Factors contributing to the decision to target the May launch window include outstanding tank work and the effect on the NASA workforce by Hurricane Katrina. NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans and the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi were in the storm's path. Much of their workforce has been displaced by the storm.

Since external tanks are manufactured at Michoud, work there is crucial. Approximately 25 percent of the workforce is back on the job. If improvements to transportation and infrastructure go as planned, the full staff should be back at work by early December.

"Workers at Michoud have just done a phenomenal job," said Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier. "They've shown tremendous dedication and a tremendous desire to show up to work to help us out."

Rick Gilbrech is head of the NASA tiger team. He said the team had identified several possible factors contributing to the foam loss. The team recently completed an interim report to NASA management. The report identifies several technical recommendations and "lessons learned," including advising NASA to implement additional engineering rigor to further reduce schedule pressure in decision-making.

The team's interim technical report will be available on the Web today at:

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit:

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