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
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.