EVA 1 another Discovery success

by Chris Bergin

Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery have conducted the first of three spacewalks after spending the day yesterday inspecting damage sustained at lift-off.

A chunk of foam fell from the shuttle’s PAL Ramp section of the external tank during Tuesday’s launch, similar to the problem blamed for the Columbia disaster two years ago.

The spacewalk, conducted by astronauts Stephen Robinson and Soichi Noguchi, and took six and a half hours. The two shuttle crew members tested repair techniques for heat shield tiles during the first spacewalk of the Discovery’s mission.

The crew woke to its fifth day in space to a Japanese song sung by school pupils, among them Noguchi’s children, prior to the EVA which proved to be a roaring success.

“We were a little late getting out the hatch but during the EVA they finished the timeline within the appointed time and picked up a couple of extra activities,” said mission operations representative Phil Engelauf.

Using a box containing a sample of heat shield panelling with artificial damage, Steve Robinson tested a gun that dispensed a rubbery sealant called Noax (Non-oxide Adhesive Experimental), which he described as “liquorice-vapour pizza dough”.

Robinson forced the sealant into the cracks with a tool like a putty knife.

Meanwhile, the head of NASA has taken responsibility for the latest setback for the shuttle programme. But he refused to rule out a second shuttle flight later in the year.

Michael Griffin said a new “tiger team” of engineers would seek solutions to the problem of lift-off damage.

“By being smart and working hard,” NASA might be able to launch another shuttle by year’s end, he told a news conference.

“I think we’re going to fix it in short order and we’re going to get back flying,” he said. “We don’t expect this to be a long drawn-out affair, to be honest with you.”

Confusion is still apparent on if the section of the PAL Ramp noted as a repaired section was indeed a patch or not. Sources are being followed up with more information to follow in the next 24 hours.

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