Breaking News: Space Shuttle Discovery to Be Rolled Back from Launchpad

Article written: 13 Dec , 2010
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015


NASA managers made the decision on Monday afternoon that space shuttle Discovery will be rolled back from the launchpad for inspections and/or repairs. There’s no word from NASA yet on the reason for the decision, but presumably it has to do with the cracks on the “stringers,” or structural ribs of the shuttle’s external tank. A tanking test was scheduled for today (Monday), but cold weather has delayed the test to no earlier than Dec. 17. According to reports on Twitter, the rollback will be done about five days after the tanking test.

The reason for the tanking test delay is that the sensors used to test the external tank won’t bond to the sides of the tank if temperatures are too low, and the current frigid conditions aren’t even close to being warm enough.

Additional word is that the shuttle is hoped to be returned to the launchpad by the middle of January in order to be ready for an anticipated launch in February. But that all depends on the nature of the work NASA engineers determine needs to be done. Since production of external tanks is now finished at the assembly facility in Louisiana, it would take at least two years — and probably more — for a new tank to be built.

More details have now emerged on the reasons for sending Discovery back to the Vehicle Assembly Building:

There, the engineers have better tools and better access to put the external tank through additional image scans. Once in the VAB, technicians would collect X-ray data on stringers on the back side of the external tank midsection, called the intertank, which is not accessible at the launch pad.

Additionally, the test instrumentation and foam insulation on those areas of the intertank would be removed and the area would be prepped again for launch.


9 Responses

  1. Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

    Oh well. It keeps some NASA employees in work for at least another month!

    • wjwbudro says

      My dear Mr. Crumb,
      Your implication of ulterior motive is out of place here AFAIC. I much prefer crew safety as paramount and the reason for the decision.

      • Dominion says

        I don’t believe that HSBC was implying any kind of ulterior motive. Seems to me that he is just pointing out one of the benefits of the delay. All clouds have silver linings after all. Obviously safety is the number one concern.

      • wjwbudro says

        No disrespect here but, Mr. Crumb can speak on his own behalf.

      • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb says

        “…implication of ulterior motive”

        No. i didn’t think of it this way. I meant only to express a positive. Safety of the crew is paramount, which I’d think most agree is the correct way to go. (I’m not always negative.)

      • wjwbudro says

        The casual “Oh well” pinged my suspicion. I too am not always negative, my apologies.

  2. Astrofiend says

    I say delay it a couple of years until I can get over in the US to see the magnificent bird fly.

  3. DrFlimmer says

    My bad. I had hoped for a delay of the November 1 launch, because I couldn’t watch it from the HESS site in Namibia (lack of internet bandwidth). But it needn’t be such a mess as it is now. Hopefully, they can fix all the damages.

    However, the decision to roll back is not that bad, actually. Since it would stay out for quite a while, it is kind of risky to keep it there, since the weather could be bad and could cause some other damages to the structure (at least to the upper part of the tank). So, put it back, keep it safe, repair the damage at a site where it is easier than on the pad, and in February we’ll see a smooth launch!

    Go for it!

  4. Paul Eaton-Jones says

    Jeez. Talk about being in denial. This is an ex-craft, it has ceased to be, it has shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. Scrap it now and give the money to the workers for an end-of-shuttle party. Any old iron!!

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