Fri, Oct 06, 2006
Agency Doesn't Know What Caused Damage To Radiator Panel
Did the space shuttle Atlantis take a ding during its recent
mission to the International Space Station? Experts outside of NASA
reported Wednesday they thought so... and late Thursday afteroon,
NASA confirmed reports the agency is studying a dent, one-tenth of
an inch deep, it refers to as Ding 18.
The crater was found in one of the shuttle's two thermal
radiators. The radiators fold out of the cargo bay to shed excess
heat from the cabin. They aren't exposed during launch and
reentry... so the damage occurred while the shuttle was in
Internal NASA documents refer to the ding as the first or second
largest hit in the shuttle's history. The document also notes that
had whatever dinged the thermal panel hit an RCC -- or reinforced
carbon-carbon panel, which make up the shuttle's outer skin -- it
would've made more than a dent; it might even have made a hole.
It was a hole in the shuttle Columbia's leading edge RCC that
led to its breakup on reentry in 2003. NASA has determined that
damage likely came as foam shedding off the fuel tank during launch
impacted the panel.
"The nature of the object that hit the shuttle radiator
isn’t known," NASA acknowledged on its website.
A micrometeoroid, or a small piece of floating debris, are seen
as possible culprits.
Scientists also don't know if the damage is related to the small pieces of debris shuttle
astronauts saw around the orbiter towards the end of the
Atlantis was never in any danger on its recent mission. An
on-orbit shuttle inspection program NASA instituted after the
Columbia tragedy would likely have found any damage to critical
Had the thermal radiator been destroyed, NASA would have just
cut the mission short -- de-orbiting the shuttle within 24 hours
after the radiator's failure.
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