Dropped Tool Dings Discovery, But Launch Still on Target

Space shuttle Discovery is still on track for a February 24th launch, despite a small accident during repairs last night. KUHF health science and technology reporter Carrie Feibel has more.

space shuttle Discovery
Bathed in bright xenon lights, space shuttle Discovery makes its nighttime trek, known as "rollout," from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflet

Technicians were doing some final repairs Tuesday night, when a small measurement tool broke apart.

Tiny pieces of metal fell from a height of 215 feet.

Shuttle spokesman Allard Beutel says that so far it looks like just one tiny piece hit the external fuel tank. It left a small mark on the foam insulation.

“They’re very small, basically it’s like a scuff mark that needs to be just sanded out and put a little filler in that place. Other than that there have been no other indications of a problem. But teams want to make sure nothing caused any damage during the fall.”

Beutel says that technicians working around the shuttle have their tools belted to them at all times, to prevent such accidental drops and bounces. The measurement tool was belted to a technician, but the tool itself fell apart and the pieces scattered.

“It’s one of those inadvertent accidents that you just hope — you try to make sure it doesn’t happen and unfortunately can happen.”

Beutel says no one was injured during this incident, and that almost all the other repairs that Discovery needed are finished.

The initial launch date on November 5 was scrubbed when NASA found a hydrogen gas leak. Later, technicians found tiny cracks in the external fuel tank.

Beutel says Feb. 24 is still the target date, and the dropped tool should not change things.

“Anybody’s who’s ever done any kind of repair or work in the house knows jobs take longer than anticipated. They build these things into the schedule knowing that little things like this can happen.”

This will be Discovery’s last flight.

From the KUHF Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.
Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...