The damage to Launchpad 39 A is apparently worse than first thought. According to a report from WESH TV in Orlando, not only were bricks blasted from launchpad walls during the launch of Discovery on May 31, 2008, but damage also extended hundreds of square feet under the pad. NASA Officials said engineers inspected the walls and found more areas ready to fail, making the pad dangerous to use. Repairs will begin as soon as possible, as there are only two launchpads for the shuttle. Complicating matters is that both pads, 39 A and 39 B must be available for the next space shuttle mission, a flight to the Hubble Space Telescope, and preliminary work has begun to switch 39 B from a shuttle launch pad to the site where the first Ares rockets will be tested next year for the new Constellation program.
STS-125’s mission to Hubble, scheduled for October 2008, will require a shuttle ready on each launchpad, as post-Columbia flight guidelines require a backup shuttle to serve as a recue ship for any mission not going to the International Space Station, where the crew could take refuge if any damage occurred that would prohibit the shuttle from landing.
So, just closing down the damaged Pad 39A is not an option, said shuttle program manager Leroy Cain. “We need both launch pads, so that’s not a negotiable term at this point.”
But switching to pad 39B as the primary launch pad would also present issues, as this site is currently being readied for launches for the Constellation program.
Last week’s launch tore huge gouges into the pad’s walls. Bricks were blasted and thrown on a roadway a quarter of a mile away, and into the waterway behind the pad. NASA is concerned about bricks being thrust up and damaging the space shuttle during future launches.
“We have lots of things that are susceptible to breaking away, or peeling away and hitting the launch vehicle,”said Leroy Cain. “Will there be impacts to the shuttle program, potentially the station, and no doubt the Constellation program? I’m sure there would be.”
Both launchpads were initially built to launch the Saturn rockets for the Apollo program, back in the 1960’s.
But as it stands now, Launchpad 39 A can’t be used again until NASA determines how and why the damage occurred, and how to prevent it from happening again.
Sources: WESH TV, NASA TV