CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- NASA postponed the scheduled March launch of space shuttle Atlantis because of heat shield and fuel tank damage caused by a hail storm at Cape Canaveral.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration managers decided Tuesday to move the space shuttle from its launch pad back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center for repairs.
A strong Monday evening thunderstorm produced golf ball-sized hail that caused as many as 2,000 "divots" in the shuttle's giant external fuel tank's foam insulation, as well as damaging about 26 of the shuttle's heat shield tiles, NASA said.
"This constitutes the worst damage from hail that we have seen on external tank foam," said Wayne Hale, manager of NASA's space shuttle program.
The shuttle is expected to be moved from the launch pad by early next week and, while a new launch target date can't be determined until the damage is more closely examined, the next launch window opens in late April and extends into the latter part of May.