10:58 PM

Risky Business in Space?

NASA is rolling the dice in allowing the Shuttle Endeavor to attempt a re-entry and landing next week despite this...from space.com:

A baseball-sized piece of tank foam weighing 0.021 pounds (about one-third of an ounce) bit into two of Endeavour's fragile tiles just aft of the orbiter's right landing gear door during its Aug. 8 launch. After nearly a week of intense scrutiny and tests, mission managers concluded that the ding in the 1.12-inch (2.8-centimeter) thick tile posed no risk to Endeavour or its astronaut crew. NASA mission managers decided late Thursday to forgo a risky spacewalk repair to fill in a 3 1/2-inch (nine-centimeter) divot in the heat-resistant tiles on Endeavour's underbelly.
Currently, the STS-118 crew – including teacher Barbara Morgan – is slated to land Wednesday, however the approaching Hurricane Dean may move that up to Tueday. Either way, I can't be the only person out there concerned. There are three words in the following pull that scream loudly:
After a week of intense scrutiny and a battery of tests, mission managers concluded that the small, but deep, divot in Endeavour's undercarriage will not require repair during a planned Saturday spacewalk, said NASA's STS-118 mission management team.
Small, but deep.

Take a long look at the photo posted above and ask yourself if you would like to blast through re-entry with that kind of CHUNK missing? The astronauts aboard Endeavour say they are "confident in the decision" not to patch a small gouge in their orbiter's heat shield before leaving the International Space Station.

I freely admit I am not a thermal tile expert, nor do I play one on TV. But given the history of the Shuttle program, I'm not sure if I'd want to try that maneuver in a ship with a "small but deep" hole in the belly. I have another word for the gash:

Gaping.

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