NASA grounded future shuttle flights because a big chunk of insulating foam flew off Discovery's fuel tank during liftoff -- as it did in Columbia's doomed mission -- but this time apparently missed the spacecraft.
"Until we're ready, we won't go fly again. I don't know when that might be," shuttle program manager Bill Parsons told reporters in a briefing on Wednesday evening.
He and other managers do not believe the flying debris that snapped off the external fuel tank harmed Discovery, threatening a safe return of its seven astronauts.
"Call it luck or whatever, it didn't harm the orbiter," Parsons said.
Officials said that if the foam had broken away earlier in flight -- when the atmosphere is thicker, increasing the acceleration and likelihood of impact -- it could have caused catastrophic damage to Discovery.
"We think that would have been really bad, so it's not acceptable," said Parsons' deputy, Wayne Hale.
He said every indication so far is that Discovery is safe for its return home.
The loss of a chunk of debris, a vexing problem NASA thought had been fixed, represents a tremendous setback to a space program that has spent two-and-a-half years and over US$1 billion trying to make the 20-year-old shuttles safe to fly.
The piece of foam flew off Discovery's redesigned tank just two minutes after what initially looked like a perfect liftoff on Tuesday. Officials do not believe the foam hit the shuttle, but they plan a closer inspection of the spacecraft in the next few days.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin promised late on Wednesday that the space agency will make any needed modifications before shuttles launch again.
Engineers believe the irregularly sized piece of foam was just a bit smaller than the 0.75kg chunk that smashed into Columbia's left wing during liftoff in 2003. The hole let in superheated gases that caused the shuttle to break up on its return to Earth.
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming
‘LEAST WE CAN DO’: The gesture was made famous by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality that targeted minorities They are images that surprised and moved Americans: police officers taking a knee alongside protesters in the most widespread civil unrest to rock the US in decades — and in doing so embracing an anti-racism gesture denounced by US President Donald Trump. As Trump pushes for a crackdown on often-violent protests over the death of George Floyd, police officers from New York to Los Angeles to Houston, Texas, are making gestures of solidarity with demonstrators incensed at the latest case of an unarmed black man dying while in police custody. “I took off the helmet and laid the batons down. Where do
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about