I read an account last week claiming that Mission Control knew there was a strong likelihood the shuttle would break up on re-entry as they had photos of the damage to the heat shield. They didn’t tell the crew so they would enjoy the flight.
Ugly but true. They had no way in the world to repair the damage they KNEW existed but could only silently hope and pray that the crew could beat the odds.
This doesn't make sense since they would undoubtedly have tried to get some better pictures which would have been taken by the astronauts themselves. Also the space shuttle could have stayed in orbit while they dispatched another shuttle or rocket with some repair materials. Or, if they were running out of supplies, they could have transferred the crew to the International Space Station.
The problem was that NASA talked themselves out of the need to investigate the potential damage more thoroughly.