November 10th, 2010
10:40 PM ET

NASA to repair cracks on shuttle's external tank

A technician examines the area of the external tank where foam was removed Wednesday.

Engineers will need to repair two newly discovered cracks on part of Space Shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank before the next launch attempt at Cape Canaveral, Florida, NASA said Wednesday.

The roughly 9-inch-long cracks were found on the tank's exterior stringers Wednesday, days after a 20-inch crack formed in the tank's foam insulation as workers were draining the tank following Friday's scrubbed launch attempt. Technicians found the cracks on the stringers as they were removing the insulation, NASA said.

Stringers are vertical, composite aluminum ribs on the tank's exterior.

Engineers were reviewing pictures of the stringer's cracks to determine how to repair them. After the cracks are repaired, workers will reapply foam to the tank. No repair schedule was announced.

NASA previously said the next launch attempt would happen no sooner than November 30. It's not clear whether the repairs will again push back the launch, which was scrubbed several times last week because of bad weather, gas leaks and electrical glitches.

The voyage is expected to be the last for Discovery as NASA prepares to retire the shuttle fleet.

Discovery's six crew members are scheduled to deliver a pressured logistics module to the International Space Station. The module will give the station more storage space.

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Filed under: Shuttle • Space
soundoff (140 Responses)

    and it only took ten rolls of duct-tape & a few tubes of mighty-putty.

    November 10, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Enrico

      Don't laugh RUFFNUTT, because duct-tape is what is holding America together these days...

      November 11, 2010 at 5:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      Well, let's see. We got a torqued-out digi-framus, our mega-spaz redundancy pile is on the blink, and it looks like we bruised our boo-boo.

      November 11, 2010 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
    • bailoutsos

      I wonder how much these old space shuttles will sell for on ebay?

      November 11, 2010 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • slouzer

      Then they found that they had stuck one of the wings on as the tail section.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      I'm listening.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
    • saganhill

      I love how all you arm chair techs and scientist have all the answers. If you're all so smart, what are you doing posting here on CNN? Why not take all your IQ's and go to NASA and help them out? Im sure they could use all your help.

      November 11, 2010 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark S.

      Well, as a lifelong Trekkie since the original series was first on the air, allow me to suggest a Star Trek: Voyager-style fix: "Try reversing flux polarity on the phase inducer and divert the secondary plasma flow through the EPS condenser duct. The result should be a reversal of the subspace entropy loop, which should also reverse the temporal matrix back to a point prior to the formation of the cracks. Then, we just launch before the cracks form. Hey, have you seen what Seven of Nine is wearing today. OMG!" There. That's how they would do it on Voyager. On the original Trek Kirk would just blow it up and forget the whole thing...

      November 11, 2010 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Trip

      Blaznee's making that whole last bit up! There's no such thing! ....coward.

      November 11, 2010 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. Wild Hurricane

    Oh, okay 🙂

    November 11, 2010 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      Now would be a great time to start.

      November 11, 2010 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. Cliff Vegas

    It's about time that they retired this fleet. Challenger, Columbia... man, what a long hard journey it has been.

    November 11, 2010 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Wm

      This cracking is not due to age... the external fuel tank is new for every flight and are not reused. The Shuttle itself can fly forever as long as it's maintained correctly.

      November 11, 2010 at 6:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      I'm telling you that ship has got the flight potential of a cement truck.

      November 11, 2010 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Rico53

      WM ,interesting , that means that the tank manufacturer is selling a bad product to NASA, who failed in the inspection process ?

      November 11, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      Well, it's long, flat, and has yellow lines on it; that can only mean one thing ...

      November 11, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • wh4t

      Blaznee haha Space Invaders

      November 11, 2010 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • bobby

      The cracks are forming due to the extreme temperature changes when they drain the fuel from the tank. liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen aren't exactly a warm product by nature. Things do contract and expand due to extreme temp changes......

      November 11, 2010 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. dont do it

    Please don't let this thing launch..the program is Done and there have been too many shuttle deaths already.. I thought NASA was full of Smart people?!? Retire the shuttle Now!

    November 11, 2010 at 3:49 am | Report abuse |
    • rocaho


      November 11, 2010 at 5:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      But, Dad, they're not really bad, they're just... stupid.

      November 11, 2010 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
    • wh4t

      it is like driving an old Ford Pinto when you could be driving a new Tesla Roadster maybe it is time for the current generation to run NASA.

      November 11, 2010 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      Yeah, the current generation is the one that really knows better. They know how to Tweet and their idea of communicating is Facebook. But that's about it. Get off that ignorant stance, bunch of armchair ignorant, "current generation" junkie. What exactly was your accomplishment, other then setting a record of number of text messages per day?

      November 11, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  5. captjack

    I agree, retire it now. How many "cracks" are there that they can't see?

    November 11, 2010 at 5:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      Sir, the Arcturans have destroyed the remainder of the fleet. I sent a distress signal to all ships across the galaxy, BUT we're headed straight into their sun, and our engines are about to explode.

      November 11, 2010 at 7:57 am | Report abuse |
  6. Lurker

    sad to say but this is an accident waiting to happen

    Dont launch it

    November 11, 2010 at 6:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      I thought this was a bad idea.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  7. Robb

    This is exactly why the shuttle needs to be retired. It is too complex and too many things can go wrong with it. Expendable launch platforms don't have these issues. The Saturn V rocket never once failed. It was dependable and cost effective, at least when compared to all these costly delays.

    November 11, 2010 at 6:23 am | Report abuse |
    • AGeek

      There were a grand total of 13 Saturn V launches (including test flights) to the tune of $43.6B – an average of $3.35B/launch. The program was scrapped because it was too costly. With a total cost of $174B dollars at retirement and 135 launches + 5 tests (total of 140 launches), the average launch cost for the Shuttle program is $1.24B – or about 37% the cost of launching a Saturn V.

      Shuttle maximum payload to LEO is 53,600lbs. ($23,134/lb)
      Saturn V maximum payload to LEO 260,145lbs. ($12,877/lb)

      The Saturn V was absolutely NOT cost effective as a program, and only cost effective by payload if launched with a payload in excess of 144,800lbs.

      November 11, 2010 at 7:03 am | Report abuse |
    • AGeek

      (all dollar figures standardized)

      November 11, 2010 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      The hyperfusion feedback governor, back on the ship, just had a meltdown. If we don't get back to zero gravity within the next, ohh, hour, the ship's hyperdrive will implode, creating an ever expanding hole in the space-time continuum, making you, me, and the rest of this galaxy, some other universe's problem.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      We launched the Saturn V with humans onboard a mere dozen times in 6 years before we scrapped the program. Ever wonder why it wasn't continued? The Saturn V had its own problems, starting with the fire on the ground during the Apollo 1 test that killed 3 men. Apollo 6, an unmanned test flight, revealed unpredicted POGO oscillations that damaged other components on the vehicle, caused premature engine shut-down, requiring a longer burn on each successive stage, and resulted in the launcher missing its target orbit by hundreds of miles.

      NASA thought they could handle it, and proceeded with manned flight anyway. When they thought they had it fixed, Apollo 13 experienced the same POGO oscillations (68g vibrations at 16 hertz, 3 inches of flex) during launch and it almost resulted in a catastrophic mission failure. To this day no one knows why the center engine shut down, but if it hadn't, the ship would have been torn apart long before it had time to blow out an oxygen tank.

      Every single Saturn V launch had its own issues to work through, whether it was faulty switches, false warnings, bad programming, or bad data. Yet NASA persevered, and today Apollo is only known as a raging success ended in its prime. The same is true of the Space Shuttle. They were never intended to be mothballed for months or even years at a time. It was a vehicle designed to be in constant use. But despite the bad decisions and the technical setbacks, the Shuttle program has also been an unqualified success.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      What the hell is that?

      November 11, 2010 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
    • KpUrHopNChng

      Upfront let me say that the lives that have been lost is a sad thing. However, these folks and every reasonable person knows that being shot into space is extremely dangerous and life threatening. It's a huge scientific experiment. That being said, 132 missions over the life of the shuttle program so far. of those mission, only 2 have ended in loss of life. That is 1.5% and an average failure rate of about 1 in every 65 missions. The original disaster potential was estimated during shuttle development at one every 75 missions. 87 successful missions were flown between STS-51-L and STS-107.

      I'd say NASA is doing a pretty good job of controlling all the variables. If people are willing to risk in order to learn and explore, why stop simply due to loss of life. If the ancient explorers had decided not to risk, instead of sailing out away from land, we would still think the earth is flat and our maps would be very different today.

      November 11, 2010 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  8. GeoffE

    You couldn't get me to orbit the Earth in a 1982 Buick. No how, no way.

    November 11, 2010 at 6:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      No license, no registration, no plates, no headlights, no taillights, no WHEELS, and I caught you going 3000 miles per hour. That's 2945 miles per hour in excess of the posted limit.

      November 11, 2010 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
  9. cesar

    AHEAD OF THE CURVE. America does not need cracks repaired. NO sir, we need we want more Pepsi and aluminum foil!

    November 11, 2010 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      Oh give me a home / Where the asteroids roam / And the gleebs and the buzzy mugs play / Where gravity's low / And the water is snow / And the desert winds blow you away / Mars, Mars is my home / Where everyone's short just like me / I wish I was where / There is not so much air / And two moons to shine down upon me.

      November 11, 2010 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
  10. Maria

    A crack in the foam is what caused a piece to break off during take off and hit the wing of Columbia. That's why it burned up during re-entry. They need to be 100% positive that the foam is intact before take off, or we could see another disaster. They knew about the damage to the wing on Columbia, yet they did nothing and watched it burn up. I pray Discovery makes it's final round trip voyage safely.

    November 11, 2010 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
    • honesthoward

      You have no idea what you're talking about.

      November 11, 2010 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
    • cdjb

      You are a complete moron. NASA absolutely did NOT know about the damage to the wing on the orbiter. Yes, we had video footage of the foam falling off but no one knew the extent of the damage until the accident. Until you know the facts, you should keep you uneducated trap shut!

      November 11, 2010 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      I was going to say, "a country road."

      November 11, 2010 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • wh4t

      Morons and uneducated people calling other people Morons and uneducated instead of conversing in a calm manner. but that is what Morons and uneducated do. 😛

      November 11, 2010 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. honesthoward

    Could these cracks have initiated from the cryogenic cycles of loading and unloading the tank with propellant? Its supposedly certified for ~ 15 loadings but no single tank has ever been loaded more than 5 or 6 times to my knowledge. There are some at NASA that question MSFC's qualification rigor in this regard.

    Godspeed Discovery!

    November 11, 2010 at 7:00 am | Report abuse |
    • mattski

      Makes sense. Didn't it go through like three scrubs ?

      November 11, 2010 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Larry Perks

    It would be interesting to know where and when the composite aluminum parts were manufactured.

    November 11, 2010 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Wm

      The external tanks are manufactured in New Orleans, Louisiana by Lockheed Martin.

      November 11, 2010 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      Either in China or in India.

      November 11, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  13. Wade N Ginger N Eastman Georgia

    At this point and time I honestly feel that someone or something is trying to tell NASA that this last flight of the Shuttle may not be such a good idea. I mean all this trouble has just happened to this ship all at one time. I think that it would be smart of them to just scratch this final flight of the shuttle and just leave well enough alone. Lives are at stake here,And we all know to very well what these ships are capable of when things are not exactly the way they need to be. At this point there is no more room for loss of life in the space program due to mechanical failure. Face it this ship is old and it has paid for it's self time and time again. Don't you guys think it may be time to put DISCOVERY where it belongs.....In the Smithsonian. I mean it has lived up to it's name these past few guys have( discovered ) Problem after Problem with it, I don't know how much more of a sign you people need to see that this thing don't want to fly again. And I really don't want The world to see another tragedy like the last two shuttle disasters,So please don't push this thing guys let it rest and move on to the nest Journey in space exploration.

    November 11, 2010 at 7:23 am | Report abuse |
    • xnysmokie

      I agree but this is money driven like everything else, they have contracts with the International Space Station to deliver items and if they dont do it they are in violation of the contract and lose hundreds of millions... risk our people is fine just for the almighty dollar... unreal isnt it

      November 11, 2010 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
    • 1plus1

      The problems haven't been with the actual shuttle.. they have been with the external tank, which is not old. Every shuttle flight gets a brand new external fuel tank, they are not reused.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jeremy

    I'm so glad the country just approved 30 bill for this program......looks like it was worth it? What a waste.

    November 11, 2010 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
    • 1plus1

      If you only knew how much NOT of a waste NASA is to the USA. It's estimated that the ROI for NASA spending is around 33%. This comes from new technologies, spin-off industries, commercial contracts, and more. How much do you like your cell phone, gps, tv, etc, etc?

      November 11, 2010 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy Who?

      The NASA budget also provides for other research, including Aeronautics, so yer fat azz can fly safer in the future....

      November 11, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  15. Warrior

    We know more about space than we know about our Ocean and deep fresh water systems?, should we spend more to take care of our fresh drinking water and know more about our own ocean before we spend more money on water on the moon or on mars. Kinda makes u say Hmmmmmm.

    November 11, 2010 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      You know what would do wonders for fresh water and abundant food? About 3 billion less people on the planet. We only have a couple of choices as how to reach that number, though. We're certainly not skimping on our weapons budget, so there's always hope, but this might just be the best option we have.

      November 11, 2010 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      Stay away from the ocean. Let the fish be, at least.

      November 11, 2010 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
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