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NASA says shuttle heat shield needs no repair

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 16, 2007
NASA determined on Thursday that there was no need to attempt a risky repair to the shuttle Endeavour's heat shield because the damage did not present a significant danger, a spokesman said.

Mission management made "a unanimous recommendation that the damage that we saw, after reviewing all the engineering tests and analysis, was not a threat to crew safety," shuttle mission manager John Shannon told reporters.

The concern had been that the 8.75 by 5.0 centimeter (3.5 by 2.0 inch) gash created during the shuttle's launch could create excess friction as the shuttle hurtles into the Earth's atmosphere at high speeds.

A film of Endeavour's August 8 liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida shows a piece of foam -- possibly covered with ice -- hitting the shuttle's underbelly.

The mission management team reached its unanimous decision after three days of thermal and aerodynamic testing with exact replicas of the damaged thermal tiles on the Endeavour.

"We did all the things we have said we were going to do over the few days ... and it was unanimous that we are not in a loss of crew/vehicle case" during the shuttle's re-entry to Earth, Shannon said.

At 20 times the speed of sound, the shuttle's reentry into the atmosphere generates up to 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,732 Fahrenheit) on some of the thermal tiles that line its underbelly.

Shannon said that in tests simulating the harsh reentry environment, the area inside the damaged tile would heat up to 171 degrees Celsius (340 Fahrenheit), well within acceptable limits.

For John Logsdon, a space expert at George Washington University and former member of the investigating team into the Columbia disaster in February 2003, the amount of time NASA spent deliberating provided in itself a good sign.

"The fact that it takes NASA took this long suggests how careful they are being -- it's a good sign. There is no rush. I think they are doing exactly the right thing."

Endeavour is carrying seven astronauts, including 55-year-old teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan, on a mission to continue construction of the ISS, from which it is scheduled to undock on August 20.

The shuttle is scheduled to return to Earth on August 22nd after a mission which was extended by three days to 14 days to add a fourth spacewalk, which will take place on Saturday.

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ATK Receives To Develop And Support Test Flights For NASA's Ares I Crew Launch Vehicle First Stage
Minneapolis MN (SPX) Aug 16, 2007
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have announced that Alliant Techsystems has received a $1.8 billion contract for the design, development, test and evaluation (DDT and E) of the first stage of the agency's next-generation human space flight vehicle - the Ares I. The multi-year development contract extends through June 2013 and includes flight tests beginning in 2009.







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