Tracking Glitch, Weather Would Have Forced Scrub
All was not peaches and cream during this week's launch exercise
in preparation for the shuttle Discovery's vaunted Return To
Commander Eileen Collins and her six crew members piled into the
shuttle Wednesday to rehearse the space plane's first flight since
its sister ship, Columbia, disintegrated on re-entry February 1st,
2003. The practice countdown was to end with a main engine shutdown
just prior to launch.
But there were problems. Specifically, with the USAF Safety and
Tracking system. It prevented Mission Control from talking to the
three astronauts on Discovery's mid-deck, behind and below the
flight crew. That issue was later traced to an improperly thrown
"Problem resolved," Launch Commentator George Diller said. "This
is one of the reasons why we do the Terminal Countdown
Demonstration Test -- to flush out these kinds of issues."
Weather was another problem, as storms rolled across the Florida
peninsula -- and the Cape -- from the Gulf of Mexico. Observers
said both the comm glitch and the weather would have probably
forced controllers to scrub the mission.
But in all, shuttle commander Collins touted it as a successful
"It felt like a real launch day, the way people handled issues
when they came up," she said.
And, as the exercise began Wednesday, she found the seven
astronauts who were lost aboard Columbia very much on her mind.
"The thought did go through my mind -- the last crew that
strapped in at the pad was the [Columbia] crew," Collins said. "It
was very motivational."