Shuttle tanking test to be conducted this Friday

CAPE CANAVERAL – In an effort to test out work conducted on the space shuttle Discovery NASA will conduct what is known as a ‘tanking test’ at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The test is required due to numerous cracks that were discovered after the Nov. 5 launch attempt was scrubbed due to a leak at the tank’s Ground Umbilical Plate (GUCP). Since that time NASA has worked to repair the cracks. Doubling the strength of the affected area and resealing the area in the distinctive foam which coats the external tank.

The test will take place Friday, Dec. 17. About a week later Discovery will be rolled back to the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building to scan to see if the tank survived the stresses. When the shuttle is filled with super cold Oxygen and Hydrogen it can shrink in size – by as much as an inch. As such, engineers want to ensure that the tank can handle that stress – before it is put to the ultimate test – launch.

The test will be covered on NASA Television at 6:45 a.m. There will not be much to see however. A cap will cover the top of the ET and fueling will be measured by around 90 instruments that have been placed around the affected area of the tank. With luck, after the tanking test and scans are completed NASA will approve the shuttle for launch. The worst case scenario? Something is found to be still wrong with the tank and cannot be repaired. If this is the case it is not known what will be happen. New tanks are no longer being produced and the ones that have been produced have all been assigned to the remaining shuttle flights.

Test results will not be known immediately. Managers and engineers will review the data and determine how best to proceed. Discovery's next launch opportunity is no-earlier-than 1:34 a.m. on Feb. 3.

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