Shuttle launch on indefinite hold; Y2K deadline looms
December 8, 1999
Web posted at: 3:37 p.m. EST (2037 GMT)
From Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien
Discovery is rolled to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in this file photo
HOUSTON (CNN) -- Following the discovery of a crushed hydrogen cooling line, space shuttle mission managers met Wednesday and put the launch of Discovery on "indefinite hold." The launch team will spend 24 hours analyzing the problem and then make a final decision on when to launch Thursday.
NASA believes the crushed 4-inch line -- which recirculates hydrogen around the aft section of the shuttle to keep parts cool while the engines are firing -- could take at least five days to repair. But since this is an unprecedented problem, no one is certain how long that repair might take.
NASA now says it needs to launch Discovery before December 17 in order to safely complete the 10-day mission and have the shuttle on the ground before any potential Y2K computer glitch could occur. The current launch date is shortly before midnight on Saturday, December 12.
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The shuttle is slated to rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope -- conducting 4 spacewalks to repair and upgrade the nine-year-old orbiting observatory. Foremost among their tasks: replacement of the six gyroscopes that allow the Hubble to precisely focus on distant objects. The Hubble needs a minimum of three operative gyros. Four have failed, rendering the Hubble scientifically useless.
Should delays push the mission too close to the deadline, shuttle managers have been considering a shortened mission -- perhaps eliminating the fourth and final spacewalk and an on-orbit off duty day in order to fly the mission before the end of the year.
When the repair mission was announced in March, NASA aimed for an October launch date. But a short-circuit on sister ship Columbia seconds after liftoff prompted a fleet-wide wiring inspection and repair campaign. More than 50 nicks and exposed pieces of wiring were found and repaired in Discovery.
Other delays were prompted when engineers realized a small piece of a drill-bit had dropped into a cooling tube on one engine (it was replaced), two hurricanes, and now the crushed cooling line.
The seven-man crew led by Commander Curt Brown was already at the Cape and in quarantine. Family members were scheduled to join them Thursday. Instead, it is likely the crew will be returning to Houston.
As one NASA source told CNN, chances of this mission flying this year are "50-50." A likely alternative launch date would be the second week of January. That would prompt a delay for Endeavour -- currently slated to launch on January 13 to conduct a radar-mapping mission.
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