Wet Discovery waiting for ride home

by Chris Bergin

Discovery is in final preparations for her return to Florida, as nearly 300 engineers ready the spaceship for the piggyback trip on the back of a NASA 747 SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) tomorrow, from Edwards Air Force Base.

While Wednesday morning looks hopeful, Discovery has suffered some weathering from the elements, due to lightning and hailstorms in the area.

Technicians on Friday were drying the shuttle’s rocket engines and their associated plumbing to purge them of residual fuel and liquid oxygen before installation of an aerodynamic tailcone over the exhaust nozzles.

Inspections of Discovery’s thermal protection system are ongoing and will continue until the Orbiter is ready to be mounted on its 747 carrier aircraft. Discovery is also having her Tail Cone put into place for the ride home.

Despite worry about an unexpectedly large chunk of insulation that broke off the external tank during launch, preliminary inspection showed less damage to the heat-resistant “tiles” and other thermal shields than after previous flights, NASA officials said.

Out of about 100 “dings,” or marks on thermal shields, only about 20 are an inch or larger in diameter, reflecting efforts to reduce the shedding of foam and ice from the external tank during launch, NASA said.

A narrow section of thermal blanket that ballooned out under the left-side window will be removed for laboratory analysis. A protective cover will be installed in its place for the flight back to Florida.

Over the weekend, cryogenic fuels and other hazardous substances will be removed.

To view images of Discovery at Edwards, click here:

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