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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA decided Thursday that no repairs are needed for a deep gouge in Endeavour’s belly and the space shuttle is safe to fly home.
Endeavour’s bottom thermal shielding was pierced by a piece of debris that broke off the external fuel tank shortly after liftoff last week. The debris, either foam insulation, ice or a combination of both, weighed just one-third of an ounce (10 grams) but packed enough punch to carve out a 3.5-inch-long, 2-inch-wide (9-by-5-centimeter) gouge and dig all the way through the thermal tiles. Left completely exposed was a narrow 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) strip of the overlying felt fabric, the last barrier before the shuttle’s aluminum structure.