Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Discovery debris spotted, analyzed

Video Story. (26mb wmv file)
Photo: NASA/AP

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - In uneasy reminders of the Columbia accident, a thermal tile apparently got chipped and other debris whirled around Discovery as it rumbled toward space Tuesday, but it wasn't clear if the shuttle's sensitive skin had been jeopardized. *A 1 1/2-inch-wide bit of tile captured on camera appeared to fly off the shuttle's belly, on the edge of a door that encloses the nose landing gear. It was not clear if the tile had been struck by anything. Pieces of tile, which protect the shuttle from searing heat on return to Earth, have been lost on past flights without preventing a safe homecoming.

"We're going frame-by-frame through the imagery," said John Shannon, a NASA operations manager. Also, NASA video revealed what appeared to be a *sizable piece of material — maybe a chunk of insulation — coming off the shuttle's external fuel tank two minutes into flight. It did not strike the orbiter that carries the seven astronauts, the NASA manager said. Other agency footage showed covers flying off Discovery's thrusters — something expected to happen.

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* -Mentioned in video