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Atlantis set for June 8 launch
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Atlantis set for June 8 launch

NASAs Atlantis space shuttle and its newly repaired hail-damaged fuel tank are ready for a June 8 launch.

London, May 12 : NASA's Atlantis space shuttle and its newly repaired hail-damaged fuel tank are ready for a June 8 launch.

The tank is though a bit of an eyesore. Instead of being a uniform orange, it has a patchwork of white spots where technicians sprayed, scraped and filled fresh foam into the more than 4200 areas that were damaged during a freak hailstorm in February.

"I want to prepare all of you for what this tank is going to look like when we roll it out. It's going to look pretty speckly," said Atlantis' fuel tank manager John Chapman.

Atlantis was due for take off on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in March when a thunder squall battered the shuttle and its tank with hail as they perched on their seaside launch pad in Florida, US.

The repair work cost NASA about three months time in its race to finish building the ISS by the time the shuttle fleet retires in 2010.

NASA has been particularly sensitive to issues involving the fuel tanks since the deadly 2003 Columbia disaster. Seven crewmembers, including Indian born US astronaut Kalpana Chawla were killed, when the shuttle disintegrated during its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, as a result of overheating caused by foam falling off from the tank during the launch.

The tank's deep orange colour is caused by ultraviolet light from the Sun striking the foam insulation over time.

The fresh foam on Atlantis' tank is however, light-coloured, some of it bright white and some off-white, indicating different repair techniques were used in separate areas.

"There's not at all a problem with this. We have total confidence in the integrity of the repairs but I'm telling you right now that your mind will have a hard time convincing your eyes," New Scientist quoted Chapman as saying.

Atlantis and a newly expanded crew of seven will be carrying a new set of solar power-producing wings for the ISS. The extra crew member, Clay Anderson, will be replacing station flight engineer Sunita Williams, who will return home aboard Atlantis.


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