Supercomputer checks potential Discovery risks

NASA supercomputer Columbia, named in honor of the crew lost in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster, is on call and ready to work over-time to support astronauts aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.

Today, Columbia is assessing a small debris event that occurred during launch, based on data from ascent images. Researchers do not expect the incident will present a problem because it happened relatively late in the climb.

'The Columbia supercomputer is playing a major role in assisting the Discovery mission in real time," said Eugene Tu, director of the Exploration Technology Directorate at the Moffett Field, Calif.-based NASA Ames Research Center, where Columbia is housed. "So far, so good. We're seeing a lot less activity for this part of the flight than we had for last year's mission."

Forty percent of Columbia's systems are on stand-by just in case.

Damage assessment teams who are studying the results of yesterday's on-board inspection will decide if any of the findings merit high-resolution simulations on Columbia. Data from launch camera images, radar and in-flight inspections yesterday will be entered into Columbia's models, if necessary.

"There hasn't been anything they flagged from those inspections or the radar data that showed a problem," as of this morning, Tu said.

In addition, any damage to the thermal protection tiles identified during the 12-day mission will be modeled to gauge potential risks during re-entry.

Last month, the Columbia system ranked fourth on the Top 500 list of the world's fastest computers.

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