As an Iowan piloted the space shuttle toward the International Space Station, NASA announced late yesterday (Wednesday) it is grounding future shuttle flights. The reason: foam debris that fell off a fuel tank on the shuttle as it took off Tuesday. It was a piece of falling debris that doomed the Columbia which crashed two and a half years ago, killing its seven astronauts. NASA’s Bill Parsons says they thought they’d fixed the problem that brought down the last shuttle. “But apparently there’s still more understanding that has to occur and we will go do that and do it diligently,” Parson says. “Until we’re ready, we won’t go fly again.” The problem is troubling since NASA had redesigned the foam around the fuel tank. As Radio Iowa reported yesterday, Burlington native Jim Kelly — Discovery’s pilot — spent part of yesterday guiding a robotic arm equipped with a camera to tediously scan the outside of the shuttle to check for damage. So far, good news for Kelly and the rest of the crew as they found no signs of serious damage. This (Thursday) morning, Kelly will guide the shuttle as it docks with the International Space Station. The docking should happen shortly after six o’clock, Iowa time. Astronauts will then be able to more closely examine the outside of the shuttle for damage.
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