Cape Canaveral, Florida -- Recent news reports have said a few small pieces of foam broke away from the fuel tank of the space shuttle Discovery during takeoff on its mission to the International Space Station on 5 April.
According to the reports, cameras detected what appeared to be fragments of foam coming loose from the exterior of Discovery's fuel tank, although NASA experts said it was well after the period when this could be a threat to the thermal heat shield used to protect the shuttle during re-entry, as happened in the 2003 Columbia disaster.
Cameras also detected what appeared to be a thermal tile breaking loose from the shuttle's tail section shortly after lift-off, although news reorts had NASA saying this is an area that experiences little heat during re-entry. The reports cited LeRoy Cain, chairman of NASA Mission Management, as saying that he believes this would turn out to be a "non-issue" and that the tiles are mainly in place for ascent heating protection during takeoff.
NASA uses insulating polyurethane foam to keep the space shuttle's fuel tanks of liquid oxygen and hydrogen at the right temperature, and prevent ice formation. In recent years, NASA has experienced problems with falling foam causing damage to the shuttle -- as happened in 2003 when a chunk of falling foam is believed to have damaged the heat protection tiles the space shuttle Columbia during take-off. All seven astronauts died as the shuttle broke up on re-entry.
For more information visit http://www.nasa.gov/ (RD)
PIC: Space shuttle Discovery launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida.