Two strips of material filling the gaps between Discovery's thermal tiles might threaten the shuttle landing. NASA offocials said Sunday they will try to decide what they should do about two pieces of gap-filling material protruding from the underside of the space shuttle Discovery.
The two strips, dangling out from thermal tile gaps, were located near the nose on Discovery's fragile belly. One piece is sticking out over 2 centimeters, the other about 1.5 cm, NASA mission managers said. The upper limit should be about 0.5 cm.
The ceramic coated-fabric gap fillers are used to prevent hot gas from seeping into gaps between the shuttle's thermal tiles. The intruding hot gas may cause a Columbia alike disaster when Discovery re-enter the aerosphere once the fillers break off.
Two NASA engineering teams are now working on the problem, while mission managers are discussing if a repair attempt is needed, flight director Paul Hill was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
The analysis will not be completed until Monday and mission managers will then decide whether to have the crew's two space walkers cut, pull out or shove back in the hanging material, Hill said.
“The crew members, who trained on Earth to repair the gap fillers and who packed the necessary tools, could simply pull out the gap fillers,” Steve Poulos, manager of the orbiter project office was quoted as saying by CNN. “Since their absence would not appreciably affect the heat shield's thermal characteristics or the integrity of its structure.”
It would mark the first in-flight repair of a vehicle in the history of the program, Poulos added.
Having spent more than two years and hundreds of millions of dollars since the Columbia disaster, engineers thought they had solved the problem of falling debris. Its recurrence led NASA last week to ground other planned flights until it is resolved.
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