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NASA engineers continue to struggle to analyze the cause of the cracks in Discovery’s external tank. Key quote:
Forty-three tanks have been constructed with the lighter alloy, requiring just more than 4,600 stringers. So far, 31 cracks have been found, including those on Discovery.
“All of those have been known assembly issues,” Shannon said of the previous cracks, which were traced to misalignments of the stringers as they were fastened to the tank or to mishandling in which the fragile stringers struck or were struck by other hardware. Discovery’s cracks were the first found and repaired at the launch pad using techniques previously employed only at the production plant.
The ongoing detective work is immune to schedule and budget pressure, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations.