ATK Thiokol Designed Patch Kit for Space Shuttle

ATK Thiokol Designed Patch Kit for Space Shuttle

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Ed Yeates ReportingWeather permitting, the United States will be going back to space tomorrow - four years after the Columbia tragedy. But this time, a new repair kit, designed by ATK Thiokol in Utah will be on board the shuttle, just in case.

While NASA will never know for sure, engineers are almost 99 percent sure a piece of debris from that launch four years ago probably damaged a very small section of Columbia's wing - subtle damage in the beginning which led to the shuttle's fiery end during reentry. That's why a hundred cameras will be watching the launch of Discovery. The end of the shuttle's robot arm also has new sensors and cameras.

Dr. Scott Horowitz, ATK-Thiokol Space Transportation & Exploration: "And then also cameras on the space station. The space station crew when the shuttle flies up, they're going to be taking pictures down on the shuttle as it flies and approaches the space station."

Scott Horowitz, former astronaut and now ATK-Thiokol's director of space transportation and exploration says satellites too will be mapping Discovery's shell. If something needs fixing, an astronaut can patch it with a portable fix-it kit, designed by Utah's research team. It includes small ceramic and carbide chips shaped to fit specific curvatures on the wing.

Principal investigator Dean Lester says like hanging a fixture with a molly screw in your ceiling, a 45 to 60 thousandths of an inch thick chip would be cinched up with its own molly screw over the damaged area. Though temporary, that repair would get the shuttle safely through its fiery re-entry.

The Discovery crew will do preliminary tests on 13 different chips on this flight. More kits and chips will be tested on future missions.

Repair kits are not the only new thing coming out of Utah. ATK Thiokol already has new concepts for next generation spacecrafts to take the place of the shuttles when they're retired in 2010. We'll take a look at this new sleek model and more on eyewitness news tomorrow.

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