This story was updated at 1:18 p.m. EST
NASA mission managers discussing the plannedMarch 15 launch of the spaceshuttle Atlantis have added one more topic to their standard preflightmeeting: hail damage to the orbiter's external tank.
A strongthunderstorm passed over NASA's Pad 39A launch site [image]at Florida's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral late Monday, showeringAtlantis's foam-covered fuel tank with hail, NASA officials said [image].
"The remotecameras indicate some damage to the external tank, but a full assessment on theis just getting underway due to the pad being closed for fuel loading," NASAofficials said in a statement, which stated that the storm occurred at about 5:00p.m. EST (2200 GMT) Monday. "The two-day FlightReadiness Review at NASA's Kennedy Space Center will continue in parallel withKennedy Ground Operations assessment of the external tank damage."
A NASA press briefing to discuss the shuttle fuel tank hail damage is scheduled for no earlier than 4:00 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) today and will be broadcast live on NASA TV.
TheFlight Readiness Review (FRR) is a traditional two-day meeting that precedesevery NASA shuttle launch to determine whether a mission is ready to fly. Thereview board will be briefed on the impact of the Atlantis fuel tank haildamage by mid-day Wednesday, NASA officials said.
Atlantisis currently slated to launch at about 6:43 a.m. EDT (1043 GMT) March 15 on NASA'sSTS-117 construction mission to International SpaceStation (ISS). Commanded by veteran shuttle flyer RickSturckow, Atlantis' STS-117astronauts will deliver two new starboard ISS solar arrays and retractan older solar wing during their planned 11-day mission.
Atlantis itself, as well as itspayload, are protected from weather by the shroud-like Rotating ServiceStructure at Pad 39A.
Hail damagehas prompted shuttle fuel tank repairs in the past.
NASApostponed its planned May 1999 launch of the shuttle Discovery's STS-96 missiondue to hail damage that etched 650 divots in the 15-story fuel tank's foaminsulation. The shuttle was rolled back to NASA's cavernous Vehicle Assembly Buildingfor repairs.
Woodpeckersdamaged Discovery's shuttle fuel tank in 1995 during the STS-70 mission, alsoprompting repairs.
NASA mustlaunch Atlantis during the March window or else wait until late April to allow theplanned 10-day ISS crew changebetween the station's Expedition14 and Expedition15 astronauts.
TheExpedition 15 crew is slatedto launch on April 7.
- STS-117 Power Play: Atlantis Shuttle Crew to Deliver ISS Solar Wings
- The Great Space Quiz: Space Shuttle Countdown
- Complete Shuttle Mission Coverage
- All About the Space Shuttle