'Gouge' found on wing of Space Shuttle Endeavour

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Endeavour on mission STS 118 takes off on August 8.

NASA has stated that a three inch gouge has been found in the heat shield on one of Space Shuttle Endeavour's wings. The gouge was spotted as the shuttle approached the International Space Station (ISS) and captured on camera by ISS astronauts.

According to NASA, the gouge was found on a six-inch thick tile on the starboard wing of the heat shield and that it may have been caused by ice and not foam. NASA is worried because the hole appears to be deep.

Ice or water formed on the Shuttle's camera during lift off.

"What does this mean? I don’t know at this point. There are three prongs to our assessment, first we will conduct a thermal analysis based on the damage, check the flight history and test the area. We would never take it lightly to send astronauts to the underside of the vehicle to do anything," said the mission management team chairman, John Shannon who also said that until the damage is inspected, "it's way too early to determine whether any repairs are required."

If the damage is found to be irreversible and cannot be fixed, the crew of Endeavour would stay on the ISS. NASA says that supplies would last until a rescue mission could be launched October 8 by sending up Discovery.

During lift off of Endeavour on August 8, cameras had shown moisture which had gathered on the camera's lens, but NASA states that the object which caused the damage was not caught on camera. At least nine pieces of debris were reported to have been filmed while the shuttle took off, but NASA says that only three of those pieces of debris had a possibility of hitting the shuttle.

Astronauts are expected to use a laser that is attached to the shuttle's robotic arm to measure the exact depth and size of the gouge on Sunday. The tile could be repaired by affixing a metal plate over the tile, filling it with putty, or sealing the gouge.