Space Shuttle Atlantis Damage Reports

In recent months Space Shuttle Atlantis underwent some sever damage that could have possible destroyed the external fuel tank. The entire shuttle received damage due to some very strong hail storms but it is the fuel tank that NASA employees are most concerned about. The foam surrounding the tank and even the tanks structure itself may have been compromised. Now NASA is faced with an important decision, to fix the problems on the current tank and shoot for the May launch date, or scrub the launch and change out the massive external fuel tank.

A May launch is looking less and less likely to happen but it’s not impossible. Officials say that if the tank is deemed ok for flight then the launch date may still hold. But discussion about the tanks integrity is still up in the air. The entire structure is now being inspected, but not by modern technology, but rather by hand! That’s right the massive external fuel tank is being looked over inch by inch by NASA employees!

Officials at NASA say that they want to leave nothing to chance. Machines may miss a small crack in the foam, or a deformation that a human hand would have detected. It’s just more of a detailed job and we want our astronauts to be as safe as possible. The enormous task is already underway, and NASA says it will make a final decision on whether it wants to repair the current tank of change it out by April 10th.

The public is not sure if money is an issue here or not, it probably is, but NASA says that whatever solution gets them to the launch pad first and safe will be the option they choose. So far with the amount of damage sustained to the orbiter, both to the main part of the Shuttle itself and what was visible to date on the external tank it would seem like a replacement tank would be the only way to go, but well just have to wait and see. If NASA does decide to replace the tank then it will cause a three month delay, pushing back the launch date to June or possibly later.

NASA has had it’s share of problems in the past few years. First the tragedy with Space Shuttle Columbia, then more recently the case with Lisa Novek the rouge astronaut and then the February storms that caused the damage to the orbiter on the launch pad, as well as to many of the companies facilities. All this at a time when the public, and our own government are questioning the Space Program as a whole. Is it really worth the funds, man power and effort to continue the exploration of space?

I for one hope that the space program continues despite it’s recent hardships, although I don’t want their ambitions getting in the way of safety. Many people believe that the Challenger accident of 1986 was a result of a rushed launch due to media and government pressure, and I hope that NASA would have learned from this mistake. Most people would agree that the extra time it would take to replace the external fuel tank is worth it to keep everyone safe, but NASA officials are the experts and we will have to trust that they make the correct decision.

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