Shuttle in trouble again

Nasa’s troubled shuttle program has suffered a new blow after reports that the latest flight suffered a gas leak.
Engineers have found evidence that highly flammable oxygen gas escaped into the Discovery craft’s rear engine compartment on take-off last July.
The shuttle has already been grounded until next year after foam debris fell from its giant fuel tanks during launch.
Now studies of data reveal that two minutes after lift-off, a high concentration of potentially explosive oxygen appears to have built up in the engine area.
The ship was carrying half a million gallons of fuel making it a potential bomb.
The launch of Discovery was supposed to demonstrate confidence in returning to flight two and a half years after another shuttle, Columbia, disintegrated over the States, killing seven astronauts, as it flew back from space.
It was a chunk of debris that doomed that shuttle, hitting the leading edge of a wing and allowing intense heat to destroy the craft on re-entry.
In January 1986, the Challenger exploded just a minute into its flight after a washer failed, causing a fuel leak.
Nasa equipment failed to detect any leak at the time of Discovery’s last mission to the international space station. But six special bottles that take air samples in the engine compartment were examined and two showed higher levels of oxygen than allowed.
Nasa was planning to launch the shuttle again in May and desperately needs to get back into space to continue supporting the space station.
It is at least three years away from having a new ship, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, to replace its shuttles.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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