Deep Gouge in Space Shuttle’s Belly

 New Scientist reports on what could be grave damage to Space Shuttle Endeavour’s heat shield on STS-118:

On Sunday NASA got a closer look at a small but deep gouge in the belly of the space shuttle Endeavour and said it had not decided whether it needed a repair to ensure the ship’s safe return to Earth.

Shuttle astronauts used a robot arm to scan the damage with a laser that provided a three-dimensional view showing that the 8-centimetre (3-inch) gash penetrated all the way through the thin tiles that protect the shuttle from heat as it flies through the atmosphere before landing.

Mission management team chairman John Shannon said NASA needed to do more tests before making a decision to repair the damage, caused by a chunk of foam that fell off the shuttle’s fuel tank about a minute after lift-off on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US.

“The gouge goes pretty much through the entire thickness of the tile,” he told reporters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, US. “I don’t have any idea whether a repair will be required.”

Image: Astronaut Rick Mastracchio makes repairs on the International Space Station during STS-118. Courtesy of NASA.

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