Discovery Prepares to Land, NASA Assesses Severe Launch Pad Damage

The space shuttle Discovery has departed the International Space Station and is preparing for a Saturday landing back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA reports that the mission is going well.

Meanwhile, officials say that the shuttle launch caused so much damage last week that it has knocked the launch pad out of commission. WESH-TV reports that the pad was a “ticking time bomb.” Hundreds of square feet of walls were damaged, with bricks puncturing a fence one-half mile away. The CBS affiliate reports there are fears that bricks could damage the fragile shuttle during a future launch, although another report said this fear was unfounded.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that a 200-square-foot section of the flame trench wall came loose. NASA is probing the launch pad for structure weaknesses, and it hopes to have the facility repaired by October. Work has been hampered by the presence of dangerous asbestos, which can cause deadly lung diseases.