The recent launch of space shuttle Discovery damaged an Apollo-era flame trench at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and cleanup crews are mediating the asbestos contamination at Pad3 9A. The damaged section of trench is about 20 feet by 75 feet, and is made of bricks with asbestos filler and held together by concrete. The trench system is designed to channel away the flame and exhaust gas from each shuttle’s six million pounds of thrust. When the trench failed, two huge holes in the trench were blasted away, sending bricks flying as far as 1800 feet from the pad. None of the debris hit the shuttle, according to NASA managers. This particular trench has been used in 12 Saturn V and 1980s-era space shuttle launches, and was built in the mid 1960s.
It is expected the asbestos contamination will take about one week to clean up. Concurrently, an investigative team is examining the trench and looking into the cause of the mishap. It is not known whether the concrete trench simply eroded over time or if there is a structural problem with the concrete itself. Investigators are also examining whether the damaged section will compromise the next planned shuttle launch in October of 2008. The investigative team is using infrared photography and ground penetrating radar to evaluate the damaged section. Investigators have found that there is corrosion in the metal anchors holding the trench walls together, but say that no asbestos contamination has entered the atmosphere. Cleanup crews are working in Hazmat suits at the trench site.