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Foam chunks in Discovery launch no problem: NASA official

by Staff Writers
Cape Canaveral, Florida (AFP) May 31, 2008
Five thin pieces of insulating foam broke off the external fuel tank during the launch of the shuttle Discovery Saturday, but they are not believed to have damaged the shuttle, a NASA official said.

"We saw maybe five pieces of foam break away... We don't consider this a big thing," said Bill Gerstenmeier, NASA associate administrator for space operations.

"They were late in the ascent. They can't build up enough velocity that they can hit the orbiter" and cause any significant damage, he said.

Gerstenmeier said the pieces broke off later that the first two minutes and 15 seconds of the flight, when officials of the US space agency say the danger to the shuttle from shedding insulation foam is greatest.

Chunks of foam from the massive external fuel tank damaged the insulation tiles on the Columbia shuttle during its January 2003, leading to its tragic breakup during reentry that February 1, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Gerstenmeier said that the first piece to break off in Saturday's launch several seconds past the danger period did not strike the shuttle, and that later ones may have hit but did not have enough velocity to harm the shuttle.

"They may be large in size but they appear to be lightweight," he said.

Gerstenmeier said that otherwise the launch of Discovery, carrying the main pressure module of Japan's Kibo space station, along with one Japanese and six American astronauts, was near perfect.

"What a great day for the launch, things were really smooth," he said.

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Japan astronaut's fans celebrate shuttle launch
Tokyo (AFP) June 1, 2008
Japanese space enthusiasts on Sunday celebrated the successful launch of the US shuttle Discovery, carrying the key unit of a Japanese research laboratory to the International Space Station.

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