Next shuttle launch delayed nearly a month
September 17, 1999
Web posted at: 1:01 p.m. EDT (1752 GMT)
By Robin Lloyd
CNN Interactive Senior Writer
(CNN) -- NASA has delayed its next shuttle launch to no earlier than November 19 because wiring inspections of the four orbiters in its fleet are taking longer than expected.
The space agency had planned an ambitious launch schedule through the summer and fall with nearly monthly launches but the discovery of a potentially life-threatening short circuit at the July launch of Columbia has stretched the gap between launches to at least four months now.
"It's just come down to the decision that they wanted a top to bottom wiring review of everything," said George Diller, a spokesman for NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "That's what came out of this little tiny electrical short circuit at the last launch."
The short circuit occurred just seconds after Columbia lifted off and shut down power to two of the three engines on the shuttle. Back-up systems took over, but a second short would have forced an emergency landing in Florida or Africa and put astronauts' lives at risk.
After Columbia landed, shuttle managers called for a painstaking review of 100 miles of wiring in each shuttle to prevent future shorts. That involved removing payloads from some of the shuttle's cargo bays and slowly taking the space planes apart to look at wires even below floor boards.
Earlier this month, NASA reported having found 64 wiring problems, more than two dozen of which resembled the one that caused a potentially life-threatening short circuit in July -- probably caused by a technician leaning against the wire causing its insulation to scrape off.
Now managers are even studying possible damage or rewiring called for on the shuttle's solid rocket boosters and external tanks.
Flawless launches are considered even more crucial than ever as NASA gears up to continue adding modules to the International Space Station.
Floyd not a factor
Although Hurricane Floyd prevented inspections and repairs for four to six days at Kennedy, the intense storm had nothing to do with the decision to delay, Diller said.
"That's not really what's moving these dates. It's additional work that we can't fit into me size of bottle we've got to work with," he said.
Shuttle managers had hoped to launch Discovery as early as October 28 for a Hubble Space Telescope repair mission. Endeavour was to follow in November on an Earth-mapping mission.
Now shuttle managers have yet to decide which of two delayed missions will launch first.
The first orbiter ready to go will get the earlier launch date, Diller said. The second launch could slip as late as early 2000.
The next shuttle launch this fall could have come sooner but the schedule was pushed back so far that it started to creep into the window for the annual Leonid meteor shower in early November.
The meteor storm could damage the shuttle.
Shuttle managers will meet next week, Diller said, to see how the wiring inspections are proceeding and make another decision about launch dates.
"For the next week it looks like it's going to be kind of hazy while we rethink things," Diller said.
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