May 31, 2008
Posted: 07:08 PM ET
Nice to hear from all the foamologists out there. For the record, at least five pieces of foam fell off the external fuel tank at about 3:30 after liftoff.
This is outside the zone of "aerodynamic concern" about foam. That is NASAese for the simple fact that stage of the ride uphill, the shuttle is in some very thin air indeed. The result: the foam does not accelerate significantly as it breaks free of the tank – and thus does not pose a serious risk of breaching the orbiter's thermal protection system. That said, engineers will be poring over that imagery, along with high resolution still images and video of the tank shot by the crew after it separates from the orbiter. Those images will tell the team much more about the size of the pieces that broke free. On docking day (Monday), Discovery will perform the now standard rotational pitch maneuver (RPM) – or back flip – to allow the station crew to snap some high resolution still images of the tiles. If there is any damage to the tiles, they will likely see it then. Later in the mission, they will attach an extension to the shuttle robot arm – and give the hard to see spots a good look-see. So bottom line here: unlikely the falling foam is a problem – and even if so, there is little doubt the shuttle team will see it. If there is damage, they will need to determine if it is serious enough to attempt some sort of repair.
Miles O'Brien/Space Correspondent
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