Repair tests crucial to survival of space shuttle program

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch this Saturday, July 1, for a 12-day mission, with a primary mission of testing methods of repairing the shuttle while in orbit. The director of the astronomy lab program at the University of North Texas says these repair tests are crucial for NASA to keep the shuttle program alive.

Discovery's mission will be the second Return to Flight Testing mission after the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven crew members. Foam falling from the fuel tank damaged the Columbia's wing, leading to the vehicle's disintegration as it tried to land.

Ron DiIulio, a NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Solar System Ambassador as well as the director of UNT's astronomy lab program, says NASA has made a few modifications to the foam on the Discovery's external fuel tank since its last mission in July 2005 - the first of the Return to Flight testing missions marking NASA's return to space. DiIulio says, however, that some NASA administrators "have raised a few questions."

DiIulio says use of the shuttles is critical to both complete the International Space Station and to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Safe, consistent operation of the shuttle program is integral to both missions, he says.

"(The Russian) Soyuz equipment doesn't have the payload capability of the shuttle fleet," he says. "The shuttle is basically our truck into outer space. It's needed to do the hauling and heavy lifting of equipment, because there's nothing out there to replace it in the short term."

In addition to testing methods of repairing the shuttle, the Discovery crew will visit the International Space Station during its mission, delivering supplies and a German astronaut, who will join the Russian station commander and an American astronaut on the station.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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