August 01, 2005

Discovery astronauts to perform in-orbit repairs

Astronauts on board the International Space Station will be performing mid-flight repairs to the underside of the space shuttle Discovery Wednesday during an unprecedented space walk.

Filler material is protruding from the underside of the shuttle's fuselage. This material extends more than an inch from the surface of the thermal tiles that protect the body of the shuttle during re-entry. Ordinarily, the material would only extend about a quarter of an inch from the surface of the thermal tiles.

The crew of the space shuttle Discovery will perform an unprecedented on-orbit repair Wednesday, sending an astronaut under the orbiter’s belly to remove a two strips of material jutting out from its tile-covered heat shield, mission managers said Monday.

If the filler material sticks out from between tiles during reentry, they can disrupt the aerodynamic flow around the orbiter during reentry, causing higher than normal local heating on the order of hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit, said Chuck Campbell, a NASA subsystem engineer who studies the heating issues associated with shuttle reentry.

“In the end it came down to be a really simple decision,” said Wayne Hale, NASA’s deputy shuttle program manager, during a briefing here at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC). “We came to the conclusion that we don’t know enough to really feel good about this, so therefore the remedy is easy and we ought to go exercise the remedy.”

STS-114 astronaut Stephen Robinson will be manouvered underneath the shuttle using the Space Station's robotic arm, where he will be able to pluck the two pieces of gap filler material from where they are on the belly of the shuttle.

Posted by mhking at August 1, 2005 11:02 PM | TrackBack
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