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)
  1. launica

    Unfortunately this article not only mentioned cracks, it mentioned electrical gliches, gas leaks & weather. Ok 3 outta 4 are man made, let's call it a wrap b4 we loose more astraunauts! They are all warning signs.

    November 11, 2010 at 7:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. Thenextstep

    Instead of duct tape, I think JB-Weld is the way to go............

    November 11, 2010 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  3. Nnn

    I don't understand one thing. Why does NASA always have a problem when they are about to launch. There have been so many scrubbed launches recently. I don't hear Russian space agency having launch problems. I thought the USA was supposed to be the front runner in space. I do understand that safety comes first. But the space shuttles have been utilized for decades now and I don't remember hearing about launch problems in 80's and 90's.
    Hope the next age space vessels are simpler and safer.

    November 11, 2010 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      Selective memory, that's all. It's no worse today in the USA than it is in Russia. It's no worse today for any nation than it was 20 years ago. Back in 2007, the AP did a study on the Shuttle Program and its safety record. Of the 118 shuttle flights prior to their examination, only 47 lifted on the first try. More than half of the delays were purely technical in nature. The record for scrubs is STS-61C in 1986 and STS-73 in 1995, each endured 6 prior to lift-off. Both missions achieved their goals. Since then there have been several more launches, and only 2 failures. That's not a bad record for something as dangerous as riding a rocket into orbit.

      Last year Endeavor suffered a gas leak, it was fixed, and the mission went well. Discovery has suffered gas leaks before, and those missions have gone well.

      The reason you don't hear about Russian launch delays must be because you don't go out of your way to read launch news. Sure, prior to the end of the Cold War, there was no information about scrubbed or failed Russian launches. They didn't even tell their own people. But since coming into the light, their program has been revealed to be as difficult and as obstinate as any other attempt humans make to get into space. Blown separation bolts, high winds, problems with their mobile launch pad...they suffer delays and glitches just like any other mortal. Last month TMA-20 was scrubbed because the craft was damaged during shipment.

      America is the first nation on Earth to allow civilians to make their own low-earth orbit flights. If that doesn't mean we're a front runner in space technology, I'm not sure what would satisfy you.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      Russians have as many difficulteis that they need to resolve on every lunch. It's a nature of the project of this complexity. It's just that Russians don't need to publicize every little glitch to you and wait for your smart cracking. If fact until very recently, Russians wouldn't even pre-announce the launch. All announcement were made post lunch, on success.

      November 11, 2010 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  4. It's only me

    NASA is going to fly the shuttle until there is another failure. Time to retire these old birds.
    I seem to remember hearing that the external fuel tank IS reused. Are there experts out there know the real truth?

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

      The solid rocket boosters are refurbished and re-used, but the orange external tank goes much higher, and burns up in the atmosphere.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      If only Captain Bipto had known!

      November 11, 2010 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • scott

      The orange fuel tank is not reused it burns up in the atm. after leaving shuttle.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • cdjb

      Blaznee – you respond to every single post on this article...I can see you must be unemployed to have the time to do that. Thank goodness my tax payer money is paying for your unemployment so you can sit on your butt and make comments about subjects you clearly know nothing about....

      November 11, 2010 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • vr13

      @it's only me. Is a bulletin board like this a place where you are looking for real experts? Wow! And no, the external tank isn't reusable.

      November 11, 2010 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. Gehosaphat

    Retire the shuttle, NOW. Very unfortunate that NASA has nothing to replace it with, shame on the POTUS, and shame on NASA for not having the foresight nor the funds allocated for a viable replacement program. And I totally blame Congress for worrying more about their pork spending than allocating those funds for NASA's research and development of a new space vehicle.

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

      Allright children, look both ways before crossing the street.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:19 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      NASA was given funds. They wasted them. After spending billions of dollars on contracts and development, NASA had nothing to show for it except a few tired ideas. Meanwhile, SpaceDev, Space-X, Bigelow, Scaled Composites and Virgin have all managed to meet or exceed goals that NASA had set for itself in going back to LEO and the Moon. 3 separate times Boeing sent proposals to NASA to replace the Ares with the Delta IV Heavy, saving billions. Each time NASA forged ahead with its own plans.

      It's time to get the government out of LEO operations entirely. They shouldn't really worry about the Moon. They've wasted enough time that civilian technology and off-the-shelf components can do the job. I don't care if you agree with Obama on a lot of things, but when it comes to NASA, he's right. His panel is right. NASA's job should be to do the impossible, to provide the leading, bleeding edge of technology that we need to get off this rock once and for all.

      November 11, 2010 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. makgroom

    Repair???? Will this be safe for the next crew?

    November 11, 2010 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Blaznee

      Aaaaaaah, SHUT UP!

      November 11, 2010 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  7. taildragon

    Is that Bondo they're using for the patch?

    November 11, 2010 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. xnysmokie

    What worries me is they were going to launch this tomorrow and they just now found all these cracks in the fuel tank AFTER gas leaks and other issues delayed the launch???? NASA now stands for NEVER ANYTHING SAFE ADMINSTRATION

    November 11, 2010 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bud

    You need to watch the old B/W Glenn Ford movie, "Fate Is The Hunter." This is how we find problems and fix them. I've worked as a NASA "family member" and I can attest to their verasity and concern for their crews. Challenger taught us about cold weather launches. Columbia taught us to check after launch and before reentry. It's how programs progress. One can't guestimate each and every problem contingency until it shows itself. All the crews understand and accept this. Moaners and whiners don't.

    November 11, 2010 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  10. Warrior

    The late great Onisuka would say, eddie would not go.

    November 11, 2010 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  11. John

    Why fly this last mission with this tank? It's a good time to stop before anyone else is killed. With modern technology we shouldn't be using people in space anymore. Robots can do just about anything and they don't have to return to earth. Furthermore we can't afford this anymore. Start Government cut backs with NASA, now!

    November 11, 2010 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • 1plus1

      If you think cutting NASA's budget would even scratch the surface of the budget, you are mistaken. The NASA budget is about 0.5% of the budget.. that's half of one percent.
      For every $1 the federal government spends on NASA, it spends $98 on social programs. In other words, if we cut spending on social programs by a mere one percent, we could very nearly double NASA’s budget.

      November 11, 2010 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  12. xnysmokie

    our astronauts are all hero's its the superiors at NASA and the government people that signed these hundred million dollar contracts to deliver material to the International Space Station that are putting these brave men and women at risk... common sense says until we have a safer way of doing this, you stop rather then risk one life but NOOO we have to live up to contracts no matter what the risk to these brave men and women

    November 11, 2010 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. bob the cat

    I believe that Blaznee should be placed in charge of the U.S. space program. Only Blaznee has the full understanding of the tasks and complexities ahead. He also has friends in high places (e.g., Mars). Blaznee knows that this planet has pretty much had it. Time to invest more in space and move on. New worlds to mess up.

    November 11, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  14. Greg Clapton

    Another attempt by NASA employees to keep thier jobs. The funding for NASA needs to be cut and cut NOW! Moon bases and missions to Mars are NOT in-line with the needs of a country that is bankrupt.

    November 11, 2010 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • rocketman

      Don't mistake the high profile nature of the missions as an indicator of budget. NASA's budget is so far down in the noise compared to other big spenders, and it's much less now than it was in the Apollo days.

      November 11, 2010 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  15. bailoutsos

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

    November 11, 2010 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • jayman419

      They're free, you just have to pay $28.8 million in shipping and handling. That's both an eBay joke and the sad truth.

      Then there's the fine print. You must be able to receive it, which means you need an airport nearby that can handle the jumbo jet that carries it. You must be able to transport it to its destination without disassembly. You must display the shuttle indoors, because apparently they are not water-proof.

      November 11, 2010 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
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