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Tue, Feb 27, 2007

March Atlantis Launch Postponed Due To Hail Damage

Next Launch Window At End Of April

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 02.27.07 1655 EST: NASA has officially postponed the planned March 15 liftoff date for the shuttle Atlantis, due to damage sustained to the external tank's problematic foam insulation in a strong hailstorm Monday.

"This constitutes the worst damage from hail that we have seen on external tank foam," said Wayne Hale, manager of the Space Shuttle Program, in a Tuesday press briefing.

Hale added a number of areas need to be repaired, and are not accessible at the launch pad. The shuttle will begin its slow journey back to the Vehicle Assembly Building over the weekend, or early next week. Technicians will then have the opportunity to give the space shuttle an intensive look at the damage and evaluate what it will take to repair it.

"It will be about a month before we can talk about heading back to the launch posture," said Hale, "given the repair schedule and the ISS requirements.

The next launch window opportunity opens in late April and extends out to the later part of May.

ANN REALTIME REPORTING 02.27.07 1635 EST: NASA officials have confirmed that space shuttle Atlantis will need to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, to examine damage suffered from a strong hailstorm that blew through the Kennedy Space Center launch complex Monday evening.

Remote camera images (shown above and below) indicate extensive damage to the external tank, with several chips showing on the tank's foam insulation. A full assessment on the scene is just getting underway due to the pad being closed for a fuel loading operation that started Monday morning.

The two-day Flight Readiness Review at NASA's Kennedy Space Center will continue in parallel with Kennedy Ground Operations assessment of the external tank damage. The Flight Readiness Review board will be briefed midday Wednesday.

Before each mission, the review is conducted by top-level NASA officials, space shuttle program managers, engineers and contractors approximately two weeks prior to the opening of the launch window. They examine the readiness of the space shuttle, flight crew and payloads to determine if everything is set to proceed for launch.

The Atlantis flight crew will return to Kennedy a few days before the launch of mission STS-117 to the International Space Station, targeted for March 15.

At this time, NASA has not stated whether the rollback will affect the planned launch date. Typically, NASA requires three weeks to ready an orbiter for liftoff after it has rolled out of the VAB.

This is the second time in as many launch attempts Atlantis will leave the launch pad via crawler due to a strong storm. As Aero-News reported last year, NASA chose to begin rolling Atlantis back to the VAB ahead of Hurricane Ernesto -- but later opted to roll the shuttle back to the pad, as the storm's track later diverted south of the launch pad.

FMI: www.nasa.gov/shuttle

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