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NASA Weighs Fixing Shuttle Endeavour's Tiles
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NASA Weighs Fixing Shuttle Endeavour's Tiles

Space

NASA Weighs Fixing Shuttle Endeavour's Tiles

NASA Weighs Fixing Shuttle Endeavour's Tiles
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NASA is trying to decide whether astronauts need to repair a small gash on the belly of space shuttle Endeavour. NASA says a piece of foam that fell off during the launch may be what is responsible for a small but deep cut in the craft's underbelly. Scientists are grappling with whether to repair the gash.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We have two updates this morning on efforts to avert disaster. On the ground over a Utah mine the effort continues to find six trapped miners. And we'll have more on that story in a moment.

We begin with the space shuttle Endeavor. NASA is trying to decide whether astronauts need to repair a small gash on the shuttle's belly.

And we have more this morning from NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: The gash is tiny, just a few inches wide and long, but it's deep. It goes all the way through two of the insulating tiles that make up Endeavor's heat shield. It looks like the damage was caused by a piece of foam that fell off the shuttle's fuel tanks during launch. NASA officials have worried about this kind of damage ever since space shuttle Columbia burned up during re-entry. It was hit by falling foam and no one detected the fatal problem. That's why NASA now does inspections, like the one that found the gash on Endeavor.

A team of astronauts, including former teacher Barbara Morgan, spent yesterday working with a robotic arm to get scanning equipment up close to the damaged tiles. They sent photos and 3-D images back to Earth for analysis.

John Shannon chairs NASA's mission management team.

Mr. JOHN SHANNON (Chairman, NASA's Mission Management Team): This is the kind of damage that we have spent several years since Columbia developing our analysis tools to be able to model, so I think we'll have it very well understood sometime early this week.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Shannon also said that NASA engineers will reproduce the damage on a panel of tiles and test them in a facility that simulates the extreme heat of re-entry.

If necessary, NASA could send astronauts out on a spacewalk to fix the broken tiles. Their repair kit includes panels that can be bolted on in a kind of goo that can fill in cracks.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

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