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NASA forms new panel to review shuttle safety

This wiring flaw caused the short circuit on the shuttle Columbia  

September 20, 1999
Web posted at: 3:18 p.m. EDT (1918 GMT)

(CNN) -- NASA is forming a panel to review the safety of shuttle maintenance work in response to a short circuit that has resulted in a suspension of shuttle flights for four months.

An exposed wire and burred screw made contact during the July 23 launch of Columbia, causing the potentially life-threatening short. Launch vibrations caused the wire to bump against the screw and the current was derailed.

Inspectors think the wire lost a bit of its insulation, possibly years ago, when a technician leaned against the wire, rubbing it against a burred screw.

The safety panel will include maintenance experts from NASA, the military, aerospace industry and commercial aircraft industry, said Joe Rothenberg, associate administrator for space flight at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

"Ensuring the safety of the shuttle both now and well into the next millennium will be our top priority," Rothenberg said in a statement.

The team will look at NASA's standard practices for maintaining and refurbishing the its four space shuttles, their main engines and solid rocket boosters.

It also will recommend improvements. Preliminary findings will be presented to NASA in October.

NASA had planned two shuttle launches for the early autumn, but the short circuit and subsequent wiring inspections forced postponements of a Hubble Space Telescope repair mission aboard Discovery and a radar mapping mission aboard Endeavour.

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 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.

Earlier this month, NASA reported finding 64 wiring problems, more than two dozen of which resembled the one that caused the short circuit in July.

Now managers are even studying possible damage or rewiring called for on the Henry McDonald, director of NASA Ames Research Center in California, will chair the shuttle safety team. Other panelists will be named later this week.

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August 10, 1999
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