NASA plans to weld shuttle cracks


By Will Knight Fuel line cracks that have grounded the US space shuttle fleet since June will almost certainly be welded, allowing missions to resume by September, NASA shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore has announced. Dittemore says engineers believe this is the best way to deal with cracks in hydrogen flow lines inside all four space shuttles. “I believe the team will come forward next week and recommend we should do a repair, and they will recommend a weld-type repair,” Dittemore said. A final decision on tackling the problem should be announced on by Friday, 2 August. The schedule for future shuttle missions will be announced at the same time. Cracks measuring up to eight millimetres were found in metal linings that regulate the flow of super-cold hydrogen fuel. The cracks may have developed a number of years ago, but NASA fears a piece of metal could eventually break and get into an engine, causing a catastrophic accident. A spokesman at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, told New Scientist that, aside from welding, the only other option is not to conduct repair work. “There’s still the slight chance [Dittemore] could determine the cracks are not a safety issue and they could fly as is, but that’s unlikely,” he says. Last week, NASA announced that shuttle flights would not begin before 26 September at the earliest. Dittemore said the repair work currently being considered could allow for a launch on this date. NASA has been assessing the best strategy for getting its fleet back into service since it was effectively grounded on 25 June. Cracks were discovered first on Atlantis and Discovery and then later on Columbia and Endeavour. Columbia was originally scheduled to embark on a scientific mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on 19 July. This mission will now be delayed until at least December,
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