Space Shuttle Discovery Repaired at Launch Pad

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - Engineers conducted minor repairs to NASA's space shuttleDiscovery late Tuesday after an errant window cover fell from the orbiter anddamaged its aft section. The incident will not delay tomorrow's plannedlaunched of the orbiter.

Earliertoday, a soft plastic cover with foam-lined edges fell from one of Discovery'stwo overhead windows and struck the heat-resistant tiles of the shuttle's leftOrbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pod. No engineers were working in the area atthe time, NASA officials said.

The windowcover hit a carrier panel on the pod lined with three of the black,heat-resistant tiles that protect the orbiter from searing temperatures duringatmospheric reentry. Two of those tiles were damaged, prompting engineers toswap out the panel with a spare, shuttle officials said.

"This is aminor repair for us," said Stephanie Stilson, NASA's vehicle manager for theDiscovery orbiter. "We change out carrier panels on a daily basis."

ButDiscovery is less than 24 hours from launch here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center(KSC), so shuttle engineers at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas are busytonight studying the orbiter's internal structure to ensure the incident didnot cause additional damage.

"We fullyexpect they will give us a go in the morning," Stilson told reporters during anad hoc press briefing tonight.

Discovery'slaunch countdown was in a long, planned hold when the damage was reported. Theone-hour repair was conducted so swiftly that no changes to the shuttle's July13 launch at 3:50:53 p.m. EDT (1950:53 GMT), NASA officials said.

Stilsonsaid the shuttle window cover that damaged Discovery weighs less than twopounds and fell about 65 feet before it hit the OMS pod. Its carrier paneltarget is a piece of aluminum which was pre-bonded with tiles beforeinstallation on the orbiter, she added.

Engineersdiscovered the loose window cover during preparations to rollback the rotatingservice structure that has shrouded Discovery since it arrived at the launchpad on June 15. That rollback was delayed from its planned 7:00 p.m. (2300GMT) start due to the needed repairs, NASA officials said.

Discovery willbe NASA's first shuttle to fly since the 2003 Columbia disaster that killedseven astronauts and destroyed one orbiter.

DuringColumbia's Jan. 16, 2003 launch, a piece of foam insulation shook loose fromthe orbiter's external tank and struck its wing, gouging a hole thatsubsequently allowed hot thermal gases enter the wing and destroy the vehicleduring reentry. Although that damage occurred with Columbia's thermalprotection system, it was the orbiter's reinforced carbon carbon panel liningthe wing - not tiles - that were struck.

NASA hasspent the last two and half years redesigning shuttle and external tank systemto prevent such launch debris from occurring again.

"I'mactually very proud that we saw it, caught and were able to act so quickly,"Stilson said. "That's a great amount of work in a short period of time."

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.