Return to Flight Moves to July Window

April 29, 2005

NASA confirmed today that the Space Shuttle's Return to Flight mission would move to the July launch window to allow for further safety analysis. Furthermore, NASA will probably add a heater to the external tank to address icing issues.

The decision was made yesterday, after a series of reviews showed that further work was needed to address debris issues and some items that were discovered during work on Discovery at the launch pad.

"We're going to return to flight, not rush to flight," said NASA Administrator Michael Griffin. "We're going to do it right."

The Columbia accident revealed a major problem with the insulating foam that covers the External Tank. Investigators found that foam falling off the tank had damaged Columbia's left wing, letting superheated gases inside. Redesigning the External Tank became a top priority in the Agency's Return to Flight work.

NASA engineers made dozens of changes to the tank design, including one to a key mechanism that joins the External Tank with the orbiter. Jutting from the upper third of the tank, the "bipod fitting" is susceptible to icing due to the ultra-cold fuel that tank contains. Until the Columbia accident, the part was protected from ice buildup using thick sheets of foam. The improved bipod design now excludes using foam and instead relies on electric heaters to keep the area clear. The new fitting design is currently being retrofitted to the 11 existing tanks -- including the one chosen for Discovery's flight -- and will be included on those produced in the future.

Another major safety improvement to the Space Shuttle fleet is the expanded use of enhanced imaging equipment to record the launch of Discovery as it roars into the sky and glides through space.

Explore further: Failed strut caused SpaceX rocket blast: CEO Elon Musk

Related Stories

The physics of badminton

June 17, 2015

(Phys.org)—When it comes to flying projectiles, the badminton shuttlecock or "birdie" is unusual in that it flips on impact with a racket so that it always flies cork-first. This flipping motion arises from the fact that, ...

NASA image: Mission Control, Houston, April 13, 1970

April 14, 2015

Apollo 13, NASA's third crewed mission to the moon, launched on April 11, 1970. Two days later, on April 13, while the mission was en route to the moon, a fault in the electrical system of one of the Service Module's oxygen ...

Recommended for you

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.