Engineers Sure Repairs Will Not Delay Shuttle
This image, taken after the shuttle Discovery’s May 31, 2008 launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, shows the extend of damage and lost wall material caused during the liftoff.
Credit: NASA

NASA engineers are guaranteeing that damage to the flame trench will be fixed before the August rollout of Atlantis for an early October launch to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

"We'll be fixed and ready to go by that point," assistant launch director Ed Mango said.

After Discovery's May 31 launch, NASA engineers found that some 5,300 bricks had been blown out of a wall in the flame trench, traveling as far as 1,800 feet to a perimeter fence and beyond.

Bits of asbestos filler material also were found in the debris.

Technicians have done tap testing to find loose bricks and have drilled two-inch test holes into several bricks to determine whether they will hold during the next launch.

NASA favors fixing the gash with a spray-on heat resistant material. Replacing the nearly 50-year-old bricks would be difficult.

"They're not readily available," said structural engineer Perry Becker, who is in charge of NASA's investigation and repair plan.

Becker said the concrete wall of the flame trench is not damaged, but it must be protected from the shuttle's 6 million pounds of thrust.

"The bricks are there to protect the concrete wall behind them, so if you don't have any bricks, eventually it's going to be eroding the concrete behind it," he said.

A repair plan will be presented for approval by the end of the month.

Becker said the three-foot concrete wall behind the bricks is solid and the Apollo-era launch pad is structurally sound.

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