Saturday, April 16, 2005

READY FOR LIFT OFF.


New shuttle tank ready for lift-off ~ By Irene Mona Klotz at the Kennedy Space Center.

Filling and testing the huge external tank was a major step for Nasa. Set against the sparkling Atlantic Ocean, shuttle Discovery emerged on Thursday from a cocoon of protective metal gantries to undergo a final test, stemming from the 2003 Columbia accident. The object of inquiry was the same item that failed on Columbia: the massive, bullet-shaped fuel tank.
Newly remodelled since the fatal accident, the US space agency (Nasa) is painfully aware that the tank will never again be looked upon as the passive backbone of the shuttle system, which also includes the winged orbiter and a pair of solid rocket boosters.
The accident showed that the tank's foam insulation, necessary to keep the shuttle's exotic rocket propellants as cold as minus 217 Celsius (-423 Fahrenheit), was as great a hazard as the explosive solid rocket boosters, which claimed the shuttle Challenger and killed seven astronauts 20 years ago.

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