Orbit of Discovery


During Memorial Day weekend in 1995, a little more than a week before the scheduled launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-70 mission, a single woodpecker made 205 holes in the soft foam insulation covering the huge external fuel tank of the Shuttle.

The resulting damage led to one of the more unusual delays in the thirty year history of the Space Shuttle Program as NASA wrestled with what had happened, how to fix the damage, and how to prevent additional woodpecker attacks on its Space Shuttles in the future. Forever nicknamed “The Woodpecker Shuttle Flight” the mission was also unique in that 4 of the 5 crewmembers assigned to the flight were from Ohio. After the governor of Ohio issued a proclamation making the fifth crewmember an “Honorary Ohioan” this flight also became known as “The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission”. Orbit of Discovery is an engaging first-person account of Discovery’s STS-70 mission that shares the excitement, passion, adventure, accomplishments, and shear fun of the Space Shuttle Program as told by four-time veteran astronaut Don Thomas.

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About the authors


Don Thomas was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and joined NASA in 1988 as a materials engineer working on the Space Shuttle program.  In 1990 he was selected in NASA’s 13th group of astronauts.  He is a veteran of four space shuttle missions completing nearly 700 orbits of the Earth and traveling over 17 million miles during his 20-year career with NASA.


Mike Bartell, a lifelong resident of Toledo, Ohio, covered numerous Space Shuttle missions during his 35-year award-winning career as a reporter and editor at The Blade newspaper in Toledo. He also taught journalism at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years.

What people are saying

No one on the KSC Shuttle Processing team will ever forget STS-70. It was the only time we took a Shuttle off the launch pad for a reason other than technical or weather issues - the culprit was the Northern Flicker Woodpecker and the damage it did attacking the External Tank! Orbit of Discovery does an outstanding job detailing how NASA dealt with this problem and how Woody Woodpecker became the unofficial mascot of the mission.
— Bob Sieck, Space Shuttle Launch Director, Kennedy Space Center
With the stroke of a pen, then Ohio Governor George Voinovich created the only crew from a single state in all of the 135 Space Shuttle flights. Orbit of Discovery captures that Buckeye pride we all felt as well as the excitement, thrills, and some of the problems that challenged us to replace the satellite lost aboard Challenger nearly a decade earlier.
— Tom Henricks, Commander of the STS-70 mission, Retired President of Aviation Week
From my earliest days working in Mission Control during John Glenn’s historic mission in 1962, I have watched many of our Ohio astronauts venture into space. Orbit of Discovery is an engaging first-hand account of the STS-70 ‘All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission’ and wonderfully captures the excitement of exploration we experienced during the Space Shuttle Program.
— Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director and Director of Mission Operations, Johnson Space Center
When I first learned that a woodpecker had attacked the external tank of space shuttle Discovery only one week before the scheduled launch of the STS-70 mission, I just couldn’t believe the news. It was an unforgettable moment in the history of the space shuttle program and Orbit of Discovery brings this story to life and rekindles the exhilaration we all felt every time we had one of our shuttles up in space.
— Jim Kennedy, Former Director of the Kennedy Space Center