By Liz White, UT editor
Cape Kennedy, Florida-NASA officials announced 27 Feb that the external tank on the Space Shuttle Atlantis needs repair after a hail storm on Monday 26 Feb. "This constitutes the worst damage from hail that we have seen on external tank foam," said Wayne Hale, manager of the Space Shuttle Program, in a statement from NASA (the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
The next mission-STS 117, due originally to set off in mid March-is now delayed until the next launch window from late April to the later part of May.
"It will be about a month before we can talk about heading back to the launch posture," said Hale, "given the repair schedule and the ISS requirements."
Hale said that a number of areas needed to be repaired and are not accessible at the launch pad. Pictures from NASA show a badly pockmarked area of foam at the top of the tank (see photo).
The vehicle will be moved back to the Vehicle Assembly Building over the weekend or early next week, NASA said, to give technicians a chance to take a close look at the damage and evaluate what repairs are needed.
NASA added that the Atlantis flight crew will return to Kennedy a few days before the launch of mission STS-117 to the International Space Station.
STS 117 is an 11-day mission, during which the six-strong crew will "install a new truss segment, retract a set of solar arrays and unfold a new set on the starboard side of the space station," NASA said.
PIC: Nose cone of the external fuel tank, showing damage to the orange polyurethane foam from big hailstones. "