ETs require extra modifications before flight resumes

by Chris Bergin

NASA Managers Wayne Hale and Bill Parsons have announced that the concern with the section of foam that came off the External Tank’s PAL ramp area has caused enough concern to ground the Shuttle Fleet (namely the only active – to-be-launched – Orbiter Atlantis).

STS-121 – which was set to see Atlantis Return to Flight in September has been scrubbed and more relevantly to STS-114 and Discovery, STS-300 has also been called off.

“We had a debris event on the PAL ramp along the LOX field line – below the point where the LH2 ramp begins. Our expectation is that we would not have an unexpected debris event,” said Parsons. 

“The PAL ramp is one area we should have reviewed. We knew we would have to remove the PAL ramp. We did not have enough data to be safe and remove it. We had very few problems with it so we decided that it was safe to fly it as is.

“Clearly, with the event we had, we were wrong.

“We did not contact the orbiter at all. But it does give us pause to go back and look at what it is. Until it is closed we will not fly again. Might as well let that out now. Until we are ready we will not fly again. I do not know when that will be. This is a test flight. Obviously we have more work to do.

This is a test flight. It did not perform as well as we would have liked it to. I cannot say what the impact is until we find out what happened. Obviously we cannot fly with PAL ramps coming off the way that this one did.

“We need to go off and fix it. But it didn’t harm the Orbiter.”

Hale added that Discovery appears to have avoided any impact from the foam.

“She’s (Discovery) performing fine and appears to have no problems, as of today we’d be ok to come home if we wanted to,” he noted.

“We have the business to fly in space, it’s very difficult. We have some more work to do.”

While STS-300 hasn’t been officially stood down, Hale doesn’t believe it will be likely to be required.

“Until we’re ready, we won’t go fly again,” Parsons added.

More information will be published later.

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