SPACE CENTER, Houston – After much soul-searching and analysis, NASA cleared Discovery to return to Earth next week, concluding Thursday that there was no need to send the astronauts out on another spacewalk to repair a torn thermal blanket near a cockpit window.
Mission managers could not guarantee that a piece of the blanket won’t rip off during re-entry and slam into the spacecraft, but they said the chance of that happening was remote and that it would be riskier to try to fix the problem.
“The lowest risk, the best choice and the unanimous decision of the engineers in the management team is that we should re-enter as is,” deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said in a news conference.
NASA had been considering sending the astronauts out to snip away part of the blanket for fear a 13-inch section weighing just under an ounce could tear away during the latter stages of descent and strike the shuttle, perhaps causing grave danger.
Discovery is scheduled to undock from the international space station on Saturday and land back at Cape Canaveral, Fla., before dawn on Monday.