Foam problems force NASA to delay shuttle launch

Posted by bink on August 19 2005, 1:18 PM. Posted in NASA.

NASA has been forced to delay the next launch of a space shuttle until March 2006 [:'(]because more time is needed to fix a problem with foam flying off the external fuel tank, space agency officials said on Thursday.

"From an overall standpoint we think really March 4th is the time frame we are looking at," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for Space Operations, told a news conference.

The announcement came just a day after some members of an oversight panel accused the agency of compromising safety in the rush to return to flight.

NASA is still trying to determine why a large piece of foam broke off the shuttle Discovery's fuel tank during launch last month, Gerstenmaier said.

The shuttle Columbia was torn apart when it re-entered Earth's atmosphere on February 1, 2003, after a piece of foam insulation fell off its tank during launch and damaged its wing. All seven of Columbia's crewmembers were killed.

The Discovery returned to earth successfully after 14 days in orbit but NASA is working to make repairs to ensure that the problem does not happen again.

"Last week we identified the major areas where foam came off the tank. We are starting to make some sense of the data ... what the mechanism for the foam loss was," Gerstenmaier said.

Atlantis was scheduled to be the next vehicle to take supplies to the International Space Station but was now going to have to do back-to-back missions to carry a heavy truss to the station, said Gerstenmaier, newly appointed to direct NASA's return to human space flight.

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