CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA decided Tuesday to roll the space shuttle Atlantis off its launch pad and back inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. Managers made the decision after a hail storm Monday damaged the orbiter’s External Tank. A new target launch date has not been determined, but teams will focus on preparing Atlantis for liftoff in late April.

On Monday, a severe thunderstorm with golf ball-size hail caused what could be 1,000 to 2,000 divots in the giant tank’s foam insulation and minor surface damage to about 26 heat shield tiles on the shuttle’s left wing. Further evaluation of the tank is necessary to get an accurate accounting of foam damage and must be done in the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the entire tank can be more easily accessed. The shuttle is expected to be moved off the pad by early next week.

Once an up-close look at the damage is complete, the type of repair required and the time needed for that work can be determined. Atlantis’ flight, STS-117, to the International Space Station will be scheduled sometime after a Russian Soyuz spacecraft returns from the station. The Soyuz is delivering new station crew members and returning others back to Earth in late April. Adequate time is needed between the Soyuz undocking and the shuttle’s arrival to the station.

STS-117 Commander Rick Sturckow, Pilot Lee Archambault and mission specialists Jim Reilly, Patrick Forrester, Steven Swanson and John “Danny” Olivas will continue training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, as they await a new target launch date. During the 11-day mission, the astronauts will work with the station crew and ground teams to install a new truss segment, unfold a new set of solar arrays and retract one array on the starboard side of the station.

Space Shuttle Program managers are gathered at the Kennedy Space Center for the traditional Flight Readiness Review for the mission. During the two-day meeting, NASA managers and engineers assess any risks associated with the mission and determine whether the shuttle’s equipment, support systems and procedures are ready for flight. The meeting, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, will continue as planned.

For information about the STS-117 crew and mission, visit: