NASA has formed a board at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., to investigate the March 4 incident that damaged Space Shuttle Discovery’s remote manipulator system (shuttle arm).

Hugo Delgado is chairman of the five-member investigation board. He is deputy director for the Office of the Chief Engineer at Kennedy. The board is supported by one ex-officio member, four advisors and administrative personnel.

Board functions include investigating the facts surrounding the incident, determining its probable cause, assessing the possibility of a recurrence and recommending corrective actions. A final report is expected this summer.

On March 4 at about 10:10 p.m. EST, shuttle technicians inside a bridge bucket work platform device accidentally bumped into Discovery’s robotic arm. The arm is a 50-foot-long, jointed extension used to grapple payloads, remove them from the payload bay and move spacewalking astronauts to various work platforms.

Inspections showed two indentations in the arm’s outer bumper layer, a Kevlar-covered plastic, honeycombed structure designed to protect the arm from minor impacts. One of the indentations in the honeycombed layer is oval shaped, 0.115 inch deep and 1 inch in diameter.

The second indentation, also oval shaped, is 0.035 inch deep and 0.5 inch in diameter. Ultrasound inspections were performed once the Kevlar and honeycombed layer were removed.

Under the largest indentation was a small crack in the carbon-fiber composite, measuring 1.25 inches long and 0.015 inches deep. The arm was removed from the vehicle on Tuesday and will be sent back to the vendor for repair.

The shuttle is in Kennedy’s Orbiter Processing Facility bay 3. It is undergoing preparations for the STS-121 mission to the International Space Station. The launch is targeted for no earlier than July 1.

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