NASA to Ship Shuttle Fuel Tank

NASA to Ship Shuttle Fuel Tank
External Tank-119 (ET-119), set to fuel NASA's Discovery orbiter during STS-121 mission later this year, is prepared to be shipped to Kennedy Space Center from Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin.)

CAPE CANAVERAL - Kennedy Space Center is preparing to receive a shuttle fuel tank and get it ready for a Maylaunch. The tank is expected to ship out of New Orleans this morning.

Officials originally saidthe tank would ship Friday from the Michoud Assembly Facility, but work wasdone on the tank Thursday night, and the insulating foam had to cure forseveral hours.

Friday, the tank wasrolling out of its processing facility to be loaded on the barge. It shouldarrive at Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday or Thursday.

This tank is shipping withoutsome stretches of foam that flew on earlier tanks. That foam was used toprotect cables running up the tank.

The foam on this tank wasremoved as a safety precaution after a piece of it felloff during Discovery's launch last summer, raising fears of a Columbia-typeaccident.

Managers plan wind tunneltests and more analysis to prove the modification is safe before final approvalfor a May launch can be given.

"We're not going to doanything that will prevent any additional work in that area," NASAspokesman Bruce Buckingham said at Kennedy Space Center. "It's possiblethe tank will be ready to fly as-is, depending on what the program decides."

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Chris Kridler
Contributing Writer

Chris Kridler is a writer, editor, photographer and storm chaser who authored a group of storm-chasing adventure novels called Storm Seekers. As a reporter covering space, her subjects have included space shuttle missions, the Mars Rovers from California’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and a Soyuz launch and mission from Kazakhstan and Russia. Much of that work was published through her longtime column at Florida Today. Her photographs have been featured in magazines and books, including the covers of The Journal of Meteorology, the book Winderful, and the Wallace and Hobbs Atmospheric Science textbook. She has also been featured in Popular Photography. Kridler started chasing tornadoes in 1997, and continues the adventure every spring in Tornado Alley.