A Cedar Rapids-area company built one of the unique computers NASA scientists are now using to carefully look over any damage to the shuttle Discovery after Tuesday’s launch. Jakelyn Coon is spokeswoman for the Crystal Group in Hiawatha. She says two airplanes carrying high-speed cameras followed the shuttle for several minutes after liftoff, snapping thousands of pictures which are being stored on the special Iowa-made computer. “We really feel wonderful about it and we’re excited to be a part of that program,” Coon says. “It makes us feel very important.” The super-fast computer is designed to work in concert with the high-speed cameras, which took pictures at a rate of 300 shots per second. Coon says those detailed digital pictures will enable NASA experts to closely analyze any damage that happened during the shuttle’s ascent. She says it’s a big change from the previous shuttle flight in 2003 that ended in disaster. “The pictures from the Columbia launch were very grainy and hard to see. It was hard to tell what had hit and where it hit,” Coon says. NASA says a small piece of the heat-shielding tile from Discovery’s belly is missing and a chunk of what may be foam insulation peeled off the external fuel tank, but it’s unclear how serious any damage may be. Foam that broke off from Columbia’s fuel tank two-and-a-half years ago led to the craft’s destruction and the deaths of all seven astronauts aboard.
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