By August 18, 2005

No more shuttle launches until March

Nasa has announced that the shuttle fleet will remain grounded until March at the earliest,

Engineers are searching for a solution that will prevent foam being shed from the external tank and striking the orbiter during launch.

Seven members of an oversight panel also say Nasa’s latest shuttle efforts were tainted by some of the problems that caused the Columbia disaster.

Nasa didn’t look in detail at foam shedding from the tank for 113 flights – and shame on us
Dr Mike Griffin, Nasa administrator said.

“From an overall standpoint we think really March 4th is the time frame we are looking at,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, Nasa’s new head of space operations and the official overseeing the foam fix.

Nasa chief Michael Griffin told journalists at a press briefing in Washington that there had been complacency in the agency in the past. But that there was now a new culture at Nasa.

Space shuttle Atlantis was due to blast off in September. But Nasa engineers will now have to make modifications to the shuttle’s external fuel tank, particularly to an area known as the Protuberance Air Load (Pal) ramp.

Discovery will be used for STS-121 instead of Atlantis, putting NASA in a better position for future missions to the Space Station. Atlantis will fly the following mission, STS-115, carrying Space Station truss segments which are too heavy to be carried by Discovery. By changing the lineup, the program won’t have to fly back to back missions with Atlantis, as was previously scheduled.


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