NASA postpones changing tank design further until after shuttle flight |

NASA postpones changing tank design further until after shuttle flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Despite concerns raised by some engineers, NASA said Friday that it plans to put off any further design changes to the shuttle’s external fuel tank until after Discovery’s flight in July.The space agency had been considering changing the design of the tank’s so-called ice frost ramps to stop insulating foam from falling off. The ice frost ramps are wedge-shaped brackets that hold in place the tank’s pressurization lines.NASA already has removed 37 pounds of foam from two other areas on the tank – a modification that space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale described as “the largest aerodynamic change we have made to the space shuttle launch system since it first flew.”NASA’s top leaders decided to see how those changes hold up during the next launch before making any further alterations, Hale said. NASA planned to continue analyzing data from wind tunnel tests on the tank to make sure it’s safe to fly with the new changes.The decision against further alterations was not unanimous. NASA chief safety officer Bryan O’Connor, for one, initially preferred modifying the ice frost ramps before the shuttle flew. But Hale said O’Connor ultimately concurred with the final decision. A NASA spokeswoman in Washington said O’Connor was out of the office and unavailable for comment.”There was a strong, concerted opinion from several folks that we should wait until we have a good design on these pieces of foam and then change them before we go flying,” Hale said. “But at the end of the day, it is appropriate to make one change at a time with the biggest problem we have, and then work our way to the next situation.”Foam breaking off from the external tank at liftoff doomed Columbia and its seven astronauts in 2003. Despite extensive modifications to the tank, foam still fell off during last July’s launch of Discovery.Vail, Colorado

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