NASA Grounds Shuttles as Lost Foam Detected
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
NASA officials say future space shuttle flights will be put on hold because pieces of foam came off of the shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank during Monday's launch. But they say the current mission isn't in jeopardy. Joining us now is NPR's Jon Hamilton.
Jon, what did NASA officials see that got them so worried?
JON HAMILTON reporting:
What they saw was on takeoff, they saw that at least one piece of foam came off, and since then, they've seen a place where a second piece of foam came off. Now one came off of the midsection, was a fairly good-sized piece. That was the one that a lot of people saw in the footage that was available yesterday during the launch. And then today, when they took a closer inspection, they saw a piece of foam that came off from the same area where a piece of foam had gone and struck Columbia's wing and caused the catastrophe in that launch.
NORRIS: Well, what does this mean for the shuttle fleet?
HAMILTON: Hard to say. I mean, you could say that they're grounded right now. What they have said is that they don't feel confident flying the shuttle again until they fix this problem. They have--for two and a half years, they've been trying to make sure that foam didn't come off of the tank, and another piece of foam came off the tank. So there is--what they said today was, `Listen, we thought we fixed the problem. We haven't, and we're not going to fly again until we have.'
NORRIS: So they thought they'd fixed the problem. Any idea what they're going to have to do now to go back to, I guess, square one to try to figure this out?
HAMILTON: Well, you kind of wonder because, after two and a half years and hundreds of millions of dollars where they redesigned this external fuel tank and redesigned the way they applied the foam to it, they took some of the vulnerable areas and made sure they didn't have foam there; they substituted heaters to get rid of the ice instead of having the foam--they have done all this and yet there's still foam falling off. So you wonder what they're going to do. And today during a press conference, they certainly didn't have any specific things, but they said they would fix it.
NORRIS: Just quickly, Jon, how concerned are they about the current flight and the ability to come back safely?
HAMILTON: Well, the images that showed that the foam did not hit, this piece of foam, the big piece of foam that came off, did not hit the wing or any part of the craft, so there's really no reason to worry. They're doing a very complete inspection of it, and they'll know if there's a problem.
NORRIS: Thank you, Jon.
HAMILTON: You're welcome.
NORRIS: NPR's Jon Hamilton.
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