NASA: Discovery appears safe to return to Earth

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

NASA has said that preliminary investigations show that Discovery is safe to fly home.

Final findings will not be available for several days as a team of 200 experts study all video and stills footage taken of the shuttle during launch, and on approach to the International Space Station (ISS), with which Discovery docked earlier today.

Images from new cameras have revealed that a section of foam weighing some 250 g fell away from the external fuel tank during launch, but did not strike the Orbiter. However, NASA has announced the grounding of all further planned Shuttle launches until they have a firm understanding of why the foam comes away, and what to do about it.

A piece of foam striking the Columbia's wing during take-off in January 2003 was responsible for the loss of the craft as it made its reentry to Earth's atmosphere.

As part of the check for damage the crew of Discovery used a laser-scanner on the robotic arm to inspect the craft's wing leading-edges and nosecone. The belly of the Orbiter will be checked later this week.

In a first, the Shuttle also performed a slow back-flip in some 180 m from the ISS enabling the two-man crew of the space station to take high-resolution images of the underside of the Orbiter.