Space Shuttle Discovery Sheds Foam Shortly After Liftoff
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The Space Shuttle Discovery
and its seven member crew successfully launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Saturday afternoon
at 5.02PM EST to deliver the second set of instrumentation for the Japanese
space laboratory on board the International Space Station. However, the liftoff was not without incident. The Shuttle experienced
fallout of flying debris as a result of the separation of the protective
foam at the underbelly of the space shuttle. Approximately 4 minutes after liftoff,
on-board cameras were able to capture on film the flying particles that apparently separated from the outer skin of the shuttle. NASA officials did not appear to be too concerned about the incident, citing that the effects of the falling foam occurred at a point in space considered to have zero gravity and the lack of atmosphere at that distance from Earth would result in negligible force upon impact. "We don't consider this a big deal to us," said Bill Gerstenmaier from the NASA Space Operations. "Again this was a kind of a learning experience to us. In the foam world, they were all late. They were all after the aerodynamic sensitive time. They looked thin so therefore they were lightweight and they don't have any impact to us at all."
Incidents of foam separation have been recorded in past shuttle launches. The same type of foam material separated from the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 shortly after liftoff. The shuttle mission ended in disaster when it exploded while returning to Earth, killing all crewmembers on board. The Space Shuttle Endeavour also experienced a similar foam separation in 2007. The foam made impact with Endeavour's thermal protective outer skin and cracked one of the tiles. However, Space Shuttle Endeavour returned to Earth without incident.
NASA officials indicated that the Shuttle Discovery carried the largest payload ever to the International Space Station (ISS), the KIBO Experiment Module. Another mission is also planned to deliver the third and final pieces of the KIBO Experiment Module to the International Space Station.
Part of the payload that has been delivered to the International Space Station by Discovery is a brand new toilet. The shuttle crew will be installing the new toilet to replace the older faulty toilet. As a new venture, NASA is partnering with Disney in the Toys In Space Program. It is an educational program designed to help enhance technology and science in classrooms throughout the world. Math and science educators will be able to integrate the program into their classroom curriculum by accessing NASA's education. As part of the Toys in Space Program, The Endeavour is delivering a 12-inch replica of Disney's Buzz Lightyear action figure to the International Space Station.