NASA finds more cracks on Discovery fuel tank

December 31, 2010
Image Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA said Thursday it has found four more small cracks on the metal supports of the shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank, as the aging shuttle undergoes X-ray testing before its final space mission next year.

Repairs would be made to the cracks in a similar fashion to the cracks discovered after the November 5 launch attempt, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a statement.

The space agency said it was still too early to determine if the new cracks will delay the Discovery's February launch with six astronauts to the orbiting .

Repairs of the newly discovered will take an estimated two to three days, NASA said.

"Any further work will be evaluated thoroughly early next week after additional data is reviewed," it added.

The Discovery has been plagued with setbacks since its initial launch attempt last month. It was moved from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Vehicle Assembly Building on December 22 for evaluation and repairs.

Engineers are trying to figure out why a pair of "stringers" -- 21-foot-long (6.5 meter) U-shaped aluminum brackets -- cracked during the countdown for the shuttle's last voyage into space.

Discovery's final mission has been delayed until a launch window from February 3-10. If the launch cannot occur at that time another window will open from February 27 to March 3.

"The next available launch date is Thursday, February 3 at the opening of a window that extends through February 10," said Thursday.

The current preferred launch time on February 3 is 1:37 am (0637 GMT), the agency added.

Another shuttle, Endeavour, is set to take off in April in what will be the last official shuttle launch scheduled for the US program.

A third shuttle launch could take place in the summer before the entire fleet is retired for good.

Explore further: NASA to test shuttle Discovery repairs Friday

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6 comments

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Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2010
How about retire the thing right now, instead of risking 6 more people's lives for no good reason?

Our government and space program needs to seriously evaluate what our goals are supposed to be for manned spaceflight.

I don't like the supposed planning of a manned mission to an asteroid, because there is absolutely no reason to go to an asteroid other than to establish a long term mining operation to construct a space refinery. Since it doesn't look like our government is anywhere near doing that, it's pointless to go.

In 15 years or so, the computer technology and nanotechnologies will be so much better than now, which may give rise to improvements in energy, materials, manufactuing, and recycling techniques we can't imagine now. It would be a shame to spend hundreds of billions, even trillions, on existing technologies for a large manned mission, when a few decades from now technologies will be so much better.
HaveYouConsidered
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 31, 2010
Manned missions are more about national pride than rationality or scientific yield. Our space investment would go 10x further if we focus on unmanned robotic/AI mission platforms vs. manned missions, which at this point seem "so last century." Such R&D emphasis would yield better payoffs for industry and society also vs. yet another flying tin can with humans inside, trying not to hate each other during a long-term mission.
Recovering_Human
not rated yet Dec 31, 2010
Manned missions are more about national pride than rationality or scientific yield. Our space investment would go 10x further if we focus on unmanned robotic/AI mission platforms vs. manned missions, which at this point seem "so last century." Such R&D emphasis would yield better payoffs for industry and society also vs. yet another flying tin can with humans inside, trying not to hate each other during a long-term mission.


Absolutely true, especially given how far robotics has advanced and will advance in the coming years.
Shootist
not rated yet Jan 01, 2011
NASA costs a couple of Billion a year, whether Shuttle launches or not.

Give Near Earth Orbit to the USAF and Space to the Navy. We really need a Space Navy (apologies to the crew of the George Hammond).
TheSpiceIsLife
not rated yet Jan 02, 2011
There is no way I would get in one of those shuttles.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Jan 02, 2011
We really need a Space Navy (apologies to the crew of the George Hammond).


Well, it wouldn't hurt to put a few nuclear powered COIL lasers, or else solar powered w/ charged capacitors, in geosynchronous orbit off the east and westen coast of the U.S. We put a few right over the top of Iran and N. Korea too. They launch a missile,w e shoot it down immediately. We could fry their aircraft and other units too if needed.

In combination with our aircraft and ship mounted lasers and conventional AA systems, along with our recently invented and now deployable rail guns, this would give any sane dictator quite a bit of pause before they should try to launch any attack against us or our allies.

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