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Discovery survives feeler gauge disintegration

Flying metal fails to impact 24 Feb launch

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NASA has proved just how seriously it takes space shuttle safety after technicians "performed a walk down" of Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A to assess the impact on Discovery of a disintegrating feeler gauge.

On Tuesday, Kennedy operatives began to "replace the 7-inch quick disconnect seal at space shuttle Discovery’s ground umbilical carrier plate, or GUCP, to ensure its connection to the vent line, which carries hydrogen gas away from the pad".

In the process, "while measurements were being taken on the GUCP, a feeler gauge came apart and some components of the gauge fell from the work area".

Engineers subsequently "identified minor foam damage to the backside of the external tank", which will "not need repair".

In case you're wondering just what high-tech piece of equipment NASA uses to measure critical clearances, the tool in question is "13 pieces of metal about the thickness of a piece of paper held together by a retainer screw".

The agency concludes: "All components from the gauge have been located."

NASA will this morning hold a Flight Readiness Review to see if Discovery is good to go on 24 February on its STS-133 mission to the International Space Station.

It will carry essential spares and the converted multi-purpose logistics module Leonardo, which will become permanent extra storage at the orbiting outpost. ®

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