Engineers Suspect Foam Hit Shuttle Wing During Liftoff

ByABC News
July 28, 2005, 7:04 PM

July 28, 2005 — -- NASA analysts suspect at least one piece of foam insulation did in fact hit the wing of the space shuttle Discovery as it took off on Tuesday, ABC News has learned.

Engineers had believed that the foam did not strike Discovery, but new analysis has led them to suspect at least one small piece of foam did hit the shuttle's wing, leaving what engineers described as a scuff mark.

Video taken of Discovery's liftoff on Tuesday showed a piece of foam broke away from the fuel tank but then fell clear of the craft without striking it. Foam debris damaged the tiles of the shuttle Columbia on its ill-fated final journey in 2003.

NASA officials have scoured Discovery's tiles over the past two days to see if its thermal tiles were damaged on launch.

"The initial report was that it looks extremely good and we don't have anything to worry about on Discovery," flight operations manager John Shannon said today. Officials cautioned that they had not yet finished their inspections.

The shuttle program was grounded Wednesday after NASA first concluded that fragments of insulation foam had fallen off during Discovery's launch. Despite spending $100 million on upgrading the foam insulation around Discovery's external fuel tank, NASA reluctantly admitted they had not solved the problem.

But the Discovery crew's remained focused on its mission. Before docking with the International Space Station earlier today, the shuttle performed an unprecedented back-flip maneuver, so its belly could be photographed for signs of damage.

ABC News' Gina Sunseri and Eric Horng contributed to this report