Thursday, May 19, 2011

Take Care, Endeavor

The current shuttle in orbit, the penultimate flight of the STS program, has tile damage. Seven areas of concern have been indentified by observation from the space station. At this point, they are not considered to be a danger to the return of the orbiter, but more investigation is needed. See details here.

The damaged areas range in size, but a few are larger than a deck of cards. Of course, the depth of the gouges and shape of them will play a role in the decision to fix or not fix. Also, location on the orbiter matters a lot- the temperature buildup in that particular area plays heavily into the equation.

The worst case scenario? A docking with the space station, crew transfer to safe haven, and return to Earth via Atlantis or a Soyuz. Then there would need to be a decision whether or not to attempt an unmanned, computer driven landing with Endeavor. In theory it could be done, and the Soviet Union long ago flew (and landed) their own Buran shuttle unmanned, but for the US shuttles, it is an option previously tested only with a human crew onboard.

As is most common, the damage was from pieces of foam insulation from the external tank (ET). The tank in question was older, having previously survived a hurricane that ripped through the assembly facility, with foam insulation that was over 10 years old.

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Welcome to the Missions to the Moon book blog. This is a place to re-live the heady days of the Apollo and Soyuz lunar programs- perhaps the crowning achievements of the 20th Century. Many blog entries will include a new downloadable image or artifact from the space age- items rarely seen and not available in print. It's all in the spirit of my newest book, Missions to the Moon- to remember the great adventure of the Golden Age of space exploration, and ponder what wonders await us in space.

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