The space shuttle Atlantis has been given a go for launch on June 8, after a three-month delay due to hail damage to the external tank's foam insulation. This will be the first launch of 2007, which means, among other things, that the tightly scheduled slate of missions intended to finish the International Space Station and retire the Shuttle in 2010 is probably impossible to meet. Given that debris from the ET doomed the shuttle Columbia, there was some controversy over the decision to repair Atlantis' external tank (ET) at Kennedy Space Center instead of dismantling the shuttle stack and waiting for the next tank to arrive. Workers had to re-cover some sections of the ET and fix thousands of holes, dents, divots, and gouges.
NASA's Associate Administrator, Bill Gerstenmaier, put it this way: “Even though there are a lot of dimples on the tank, they’re very low mass. It has a slightly higher risk due to the number of repairs. It’s as good — almost — as a regular tank that we would go fly."
COMMENT: I'm not an engineer, and the people working on the Shuttle are among the best engineers you can find on this planet. That said, this decision makes me nervous. I'll be watching June 8 with fingers crossed that all goes well.