NASA managers delay next shuttle launch
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: June 24, 2002
At issue is the health of metal liners mounted inside the propellant lines that feel supercold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to a shuttle's three main engines.
Recent inspections of the fuel flow liners aboard Atlantis and Discovery revealed cracks measuring up to three-tenths of an inch long. Should a liner rupture or break apart during ascent, the high-speed flow of propellants would be disrupted at the very least. Whether any fragments could be ingested by an engine, possibly with catastrophic results, is not yet clear.
But the cracks clearly pose a safety risk and shuttle program manager Ronald Dittemore wants to find out whether the flow liners aboard Columbia have experienced similar problems. At the same time, engineers are assessing what must be done to fix the already discovered cracks.
NASA had planned to haul Columbia to the launch pad in the next few days to begin final preparations for launch July 19. But work to ready the ship for rollover from its hangar to the Vehicle Assembly Building for attachment to a pair of boosters and its external tank was put on hold over the weekend.
Atlantis is scheduled for launch Aug. 22 on the next space station assembly flight. Depending on how the flow liner issue plays out, Atlantis could end up launching before Columbia. But at this point, trying to guess how the launch schedule might work out is pretty much an exercise in futility.
Here is the text of a NASA statement on the issue:
NASA managers today temporarily suspended launch preparations for Space Shuttle Columbia until they have a better understanding of several small cracks found in metal liners used to direct the flow inside main propulsion-system propellant lines on other orbiters in the fleet.
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