Engineers Sure Repairs Will Not Delay Shuttle

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. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA engineers are guaranteeing that damage to the flametrench will be fixed before the August rollout of Atlantis for an early Octoberlaunch 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'sMay 31 launch, NASA engineers foundthat 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 thedebris.

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

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

"They're not readily available," said structuralengineer Perry Becker, who is in charge of NASA's investigation and repairplan.

Becker said the concrete wall of the flame trench is notdamaged, but it must be protected from the shuttle's 6 million pounds ofthrust.

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

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

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

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