Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Trouble with space shuttle heat shield?

RCC Panels on Space Shuttle Discovery and an up-close view of them. They are an essential part of the shuttle's thermal protection system.
There is been some rumor about trouble with Discovery's heat shield for a while now. Nothing is yet confirmed, but at the public raumfahrer.net forum a message popped up that there may actually be trouble.

This is the first public posting on the problem. If it really exists, that would probably be extremely bad: if some of the so called RCC (reinforced carbon carbon) elements would be damaged, the repair would probably be very time consuming. That could cause not just a slight delay but in worst case make a launch of STS-120 in the set launch window impossible. Of course, this would be extremely bad news for me personally, too.

The RCC (Reinforced Carbon-Carbon) panels are a vital part of the space shuttle's thermal protection system. They gained notoriety as the cause of the Columbia disaster. During Columbia's STS-107 launch, a RCC panel was damaged by foam debris falling from the external tank. On re-entry, that lead to ultra-hot gases entering the orbiters inside, which in turn lead to melting and break up of the space ship. All crew members lost their lives in this accident.

So problems with the RCC panels are to be taken seriously. And I am sure NASA will. What gives me hope is that so far no official word from NASA is out. So, hopefully, these rumors are exactly that: rumors. I hope to get better information in the next few hours. Actually, I am very eager about any news: after all, it would more then depress me if I needed to cancel my launch viewing trip at this stage - especially as so far everything went exceptionally well...

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