NASA continuing to evaluate Space Shuttle Endeavour's heat shield

by Kristen Dahlgren

NBC News

It will take at least another day for NASA's mission managers to decide what to do about a gouge to some of the space shuttle Endeavour's heat resistant tiles.
 
It was a problem with the tiles that caused the Columbia accident back in 2003 so now, mission managers must decide if an in flight repair job will be necessary before Endeavour comes home.

After tests and meetings Monday, mission managers want more information before they make their decision.

Bottom line, what they seeing is definitely a concern and may also be a sign of a continuing problem with foam loss.

That's a problem they thought they had under control.
 
The divot is only a few inches long and is on the underside of the space shuttle Endeavour.

It's a small problem, but serious
 
"We saw the picture we saw it is more than nothing and its something we're going to go understand," said john Shannon of the mission management team.

NASA engineers spent the day trying to understand just how big a deal the little three and a half inch gouge could be.
 
Laser and camera images show the divot reaches all the way to the shuttle's aluminum skin.
 
They also now know it was foam and not ice as originally thought that  struck Endeavour 58 seconds after liftoff.
 
But that may create even more problems.

After years of working to eliminate falling foam, NASA thought it had the issue under control.

Just last week NASA administrator Michael Griffin said, "we think we understand why the tank generates and sheds debris and we think we have it under control.  and that was of course the problem that killed the Columbia astronauts."

The Columbia disaster is no doubt on many minds as mission managers must now decide whether to re-evaluate their upcoming launch schedule.

Even as they tackle the more immediate issue is repairing the shuttle's heat resistant tiles in orbit the best way to bring Endeavour home safely?