The NASA official who presided over Columbia's doomed re-entry -- and who will make the final call about whether Discovery should launch today -- said he is confident this will be a safe flight despite lingering questions about wing imperfections.
Shuttle launch manager LeRoy Cain said on Sunday that he would delay the space station construction mission if he thought Discovery's wings would not hold up during its return from orbit. A hole in one of Columbia's wings led to its destruction four-and-a-half years ago; Cain was the flight director on duty at Mission Control.
"We have not cut any corners here. We've reviewed the data in detail," Cain said at a news conference.
Meteorologists said rain and possibly thunderstorms could delay the launch. The odds of acceptable weather for the late morning launch was 60 percent.
Half of the engineers who participated in Discovery's flight readiness review this past week favored a launch delay to allow further tests and possible replacement of three suspect wing panels. Senior managers opted to press ahead, saying they were not convinced repairs were needed.
A new inspection method uncovered what could be cracks just beneath the protective coating on these three wing panels. It's unknown whether the cracks, if they are there, might worsen and cause the coating to chip off, making the area more vulnerable to the 1,650oC heat of re-entry.
No one knows what could be causing cracks.
Cain said all 44 of the reinforced carbon panels that form the leading edge of Discovery's wings may have some similar flaw, along with the wing panels on NASA's two other shuttles. The as-yet-unanswered question, he said, is how bad the degradation needs to be in order to take action.
"We believe, to the best of our ability to know today, that this risk is certainly lower than some of the more significant risks that we take because of the inherent nature of this vehicle when we go fly," he said.
Discovery's astronauts will use an inspection boom in orbit to check each wing panel, especially the three in question. The equipment can detect whether any coating is missing, but is not sensitive enough to spot underlying cracks, Cain said.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
LIFELONG LOSS: Jiro Hamasumi, who was not quite born when an atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, lost his father and other relatives, but said he thinks about his father daily As Japan marks 75 years since the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the last generation of nuclear bomb survivors is working to ensure their message lives on after them. The “hibakusha” — literally “person affected by the bomb” — have for decades been a powerful voice calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. There are an estimated 136,700 left, many of whom were infants or soon to be born at the time of the attacks. The average age of a survivor now is a little over 83, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, lending an urgency as they share their testimonies