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Hail damage delays shuttle launch
Posted: Tue, Feb 27, 2007, 8:53 PM ET (0153 GMT)
STS-117: hail damage to external tank (NASA/KSC) A "freak" hailstorm Monday caused enough damage to the external tank of the space shuttle Atlantis that NASA managers decided late Tuesday to delay the launch until no earlier than late April. NASA had planned to launch Atlantis on mission STS-117 on March 15. However, a localized but powerful thunderstorm Monday afternoon pelted the shuttle with large, wind-driven hailstones that left an estimated 7,000 divots in the foam insulation of the shuttle's external tank. The hail also caused minor damage to about two dozen shuttle tiles. Shuttle managers decided Tuesday that the shuttle will need to be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to repair the damage, meaning that the shuttle will not be able to launch before its current launch window closes on March 25. NASA is thus tentatively planning the next launch attempt in late April, although no firm date has yet to be announced. The incident is a setback in NASA's plans to launch as many as five shuttles in 2006, as the agency works to complete assembly of the International Space Station and retire the shuttle fleet in 2010.
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