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Thu, Jun 08, 2006

NASA Clears Shuttle Tank Changes For July Flight

"There Were No Surprises"

You are "go" for launch. That's the word from NASA on the space shuttle's external fuel tank, the source of falling foam and much consternation on the fleet's last two flights.

"There were no surprises. Everything went smoothly," NASA spokeswoman June Malone told Reuters following a meeting of managers and engineers at NASA's fuel tank manufacturing plant near New Orleans.

Wednesday's approval of design changes on the tank clears the way for the resumption of shuttle flights as early as the first of next month. The space agency will pick a firm launch date after a formal flight review next week.

A chunk of falling foam pierced the wing of the shuttle Columbia on its last, ill-fated mission in 2003. The resulting puncture allowed super-hot gases to penetrate the orbiter's heat shield, causing it to disintegrate on re-entry.

After several changes were made following that accident, NASA scientists were dismayed when still more foam fell from the shuttle Discovery during last year's return to flight... forcing NASA scientists and engineers to rethink the placement of the spray-on foam insulation on some areas of the fuel tank.

That mission accomplished... tests of the new design show that areas that no longer have foam insulation are still capable of withstanding the stresses of launch.



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