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Discovery’s launch delayed until December 17 at the earliest. Key quote:
Shannon said that one of the concerns was that another major crack might liberate a piece of insulating foam large enough to damage Discovery, as happened during the January 2003 liftoff of Columbia. A suitcase-sized chunk of foam punched a hole in Columbia’s wing, dooming the ship and her crew of seven astronauts when they reentered the atmosphere.
Shannon said that teams were also examining the possibility that the tanks have been flying with undetected cracks for years.
Cracks became more common after the 1998 debut of “super-lightweight” tanks built with a more brittle aluminum-lithium alloy. Since then, 29 cracks in stringers making up the ribbed “intertank” section that separates liquid hydrogen and oxygen tanks have been found and repaired in 18 tanks, including Discovery’s and a tank scheduled for use by the shuttle Atlantis next summer.