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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Discovery External Tank Repairs Begin Monday as Engineers Analyze Data

Repairs continue on the space shuttle Discovery. Only two, or possibly three if Congress is so inclined, missions remain for the space shuttle program. I understand that some people are sad to see this era come to and end, but Discovery first flew in 1984. I wouldn't trust driving a 27 year old car to Spokane, much less go into space in something that old. It is well past time to retire the remaining shuttle fleet. It is true that we don't have any NASA-labeled replacement to get US astronauts into low orbit, but between the Soyuz-TMA missions and the heterogeneous fleet of commercial spacecraft which will be ready for service later this year, service to the ISS and other low orbit destinations will continue uninterrupted.

I admit that I will miss the space shuttles. I was stationed at Canaveral during the 1980s, and I loved watching the shuttle launches. But it is time for them to be retired. We don't need to lose another seven astronauts for sake of nostalgia. 

NASA--Technicians working on space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are off for the New Year holiday weekend. On Monday, they'll begin repairs on three support beams, called stringers, that recently were detected to have small cracks on their tops.

Engineers at various NASA centers continue to analyze data from testing and X-ray type image scans collected during the past week of all 108 stringers on the outside of the external tank's ‪intertank section. The image scans showed four small cracks on three stringers on the opposite side of the tank from Discovery. Managers decided Thursday to have those cracks repaired in a similar fashion to repairs made on cracks on two stringers found after Discovery's Nov. 5 launch attempt.

The repair work is estimated to take 2–3 days. Any further work will be evaluated thoroughly during the week after additional data and analysis are reviewed.

Managers also continue to evaluate an option to perform known and practiced modifications on some stringers. Before breaking for the holiday, technicians reconfigured scaffolding to provide access for the modification work, should it be required. A decision may be made on that work as early as Monday.

The next available launch date for Discovery's STS-133 mission to the International Space Station remains Feb. 3 at the opening of a window that extends through Feb. 10.

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