Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Atlantis Returns to Launch Pad


Two and a half months after the freak storm that damaged the foam insulation of its external fuel tank, shuttle Atlantis returns to the launch pad in preparation for its scheduled June 8 launch to the ISS for an extensive construction mission to the orbiting space habitat.

"The move is a major step towards launch for Atlantis and its STS-117 astronaut crew following a two and one-half-month delay that began on Feb. 26, when a freak storm over Pad 39A pelted the orbiter's foam-covered fuel tank with golf ball-sized hail. Of about 4,200 divots gouged into Atlantis' fuel tank insulation, engineers patched up all but 402 minor dings and invented a new portable sanding tool in one week to finish the job inside KSC's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building, said John Chapman, NASA's external tank project manager."

The foam was sanded and repaired with new foam in spots, while others had to have new insulation hand poured into damaged areas. The extensive damage done to the nose cap of the tank was particularly challenging, with new spraying techniques having to be developed for the repairs. STS-117 will deliver two new trusses in preparation for later missions carrying new European and Japanese built station modules later this year and also install a new solar array to provide additional power for the new segments. A new station crew member will also be delivered to relieve an ISS mission specialist on the Expedition 15 crew.

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