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Space Shuttle Atlantis To Launch June 8, NASA Managers Say

01 June 2007

Mission STS-117 delayed more than two months by hail damage to external tank

Washington -- The space shuttle Atlantis will launch June 8 from the Kennedy Space Station in Florida, three months after a surprise hail storm damaged the external fuel tank, according to NASA officials.

NASA senior managers announced the launch date for mission STS-117 on May 31 after a two-day meeting called a flight readiness review, during which NASA and contractor managers assess potential mission risks and determine whether the shuttle's equipment, support systems and procedures are ready for flight.

Because of the hail damage, engineers had to make 2,664 repairs, many of which were routine, to the insulating foam that covers the external tank. The foam has been the source of problems because pieces of it tend to come off the tank as the craft leaves the launch pad and ascends to orbit.

In 2005, high-resolution cameras showed a large piece of insulation foam flying off Discovery's external tank during a July launch. The cameras were added to the shuttle after the loss of Columbia and her seven crew members in 2003. The Columbia accident happened during the spacecraft's return to Earth due to damage from falling foam that occurred during launch.


Since 2005, NASA engineers and contractors have made several design changes to the external tank and to foam application processes to minimize the foam loss.

"The reason I feel confident that we won't be losing pieces of foam off the tank is because we have done so much work," space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said during a May 31 press briefing.

"We do these repairs all the time at the factory in New Orleans and we don't lose foam off the repairs," Hale added. "We've nailed it down to the best that anybody can do in ground testing and then we have the flight experience of having literally hundreds of these repairs over the years done on tanks that have already flown." (See related article.)

Another foam-related design change to the external tank is the removal of ice-frost ramps of foam insulation that cover the brackets between the tank's surface and external tank plumbing lines to keep ice from forming. The ramps have been sites of past foam loss.

Atlantis originally was scheduled for launch in mid-March, but the nearly two-month delay will not affect the shuttle's subsequent planned flights, according to NASA officials.

"We have adequate time to fly the 16 flights that are ahead of us to the International Space Station and the Hubble servicing mission," Hale said, "before the shuttle's scheduled retirement date of September 30, 2010.

Administrator Michael Griffin announced in 2006 that NASA would send a shuttle to the Hubble Space Telescope in mid- to late 2008 to deliver two new science instruments and install new gyroscopes and batteries that will extend Hubble's life through 2013. (See related article.)

Hale said after the June Atlantis flight, shuttle launches are scheduled in early August, late October and early December.

"After that," he said, "we'll just take it as it comes."


Rick Sturckow will command the STS-117 mission and Lee Archambault will serve as pilot. Mission specialists are James Reilly, Steven Swanson, John Olivas and flight engineer Clayton Anderson.

During the 11-day mission and three spacewalks, the crew will work with flight controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas to install a 17-ton segment on the station's girder-like truss and deploy a set of solar arrays.

The power added by the solar arrays, said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations, is critical to ensure backup power for the station crew and for the October arrival of Harmony Node 2.

Node 2 will increase station living and work space, provide a passageway between three station science experiment facilities, and provide connecting ports for logistics modules, the Japanese H II transfer vehicle, and a pressurized mating adapter for space shuttle docking.

The Node, Gerstenmaier added, also will be the connecting point for the European Columbus Laboratory in December and the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) in January or February 2008.

The solar panels are “necessary to provide power to the Node module," he said, "which then provides power to the Columbus and JEM modules. So it's absolutely critical to what we're doing."

Under contract by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, the Italian space agency, Alenia Spazio in Italy led a consortium of European subcontractors to build the node.

Space station partners are space agencies from Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Additional information about the STS-117 mission is available on the NASA Web site.

For more information on the U.S. space program, see Science and Technology.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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