Protruding Gap Filler spotted on Discovery

by Chris Bergin

A protruding gap filler has been spotted under the port side wing of Shuttle Discovery. It was spotted during inspections that made up the bulk of Flight Day 2 on STS-121.

The position of the gap filler is in an area which has previously been noted as “Priority 3” – the lowest priority and thus may not require removal via an EVA.

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The location of the protruding gap filler is a positive. It does not belong to areas previously worked on by engineers inside the Orbiter Processing Facility during their ‘pull tests’ in which thousands of gap fillers were tested or replaced.

During processing, only gap fillers in the 1 and 1A zones – which are on the forward area of the orbiter – were tested. No gapfillers in the middle, sides or aft were replaced.

Sources note that the gap filler dates back to a 1982 installation into the Thermal Protection System of Discovery. The exact measurement of how far the gap filler is protruding is not yet known.

During STS-114 last year, astronaut Steve Robinson removed two gapfillers that were spotted protruding out of Discovery’s belly.

The mission – the first of its kind – was a success, with Robinson noting to a watching world ‘This big patent is now cured.’

NASA later update the status of the finding at the post-MMT (Management Mission Team) press conference from the Kennedy Space Center, noting they are going to take a second look at the gap filler tomorrow.

Meanwhile, NASA is looking into a faint object that was spotted after just 19 seconds of the ascent on July 4. Engineers are looking into images that show the object change direction on imagery – potentially showing an impact on Discovery.

Due to image being faint, despite superior tracking abilities, any impact is unlikely to be a concern, given it is likely to be extremely small.

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