Same Problem Cropped Up Last Year
Last week, Aero-News reported on NASA's tight
schedule for launching three shuttle missions this
year. The slightest glitch could throw that schedule
off, NASA said at the time... and now, it appears such a glitch may
The trouble is with the shuttle Discovery's problematic external
fuel tank. A critical fuel-depletion sensor, once known as an
emergency cutoff sensor, is giving unusual readings, NASA engineers
NBC news reports it's the same type of problem that plagued the countdown of Discovery's
"Return to Flight" launch last July. Scientists
ultimately decided to launch then, despite the intermittent
It's not known yet if the problem sensor -- which displayed what
one scientist described as "a very slight shift" during electrical
tests -- will need to be replaced this time around. It is also not
known how the problem might affect Discovery's scheduled May 10
Should engineers decide the problem sensor needs to be replaced,
one anonymous source told NBC News the job might require no more
than an additional week of work -- leaving the door open for a
possible launch between May 17-23. But others say it could take
much more time.
Even if the scheduled May launch is delayed until July, NASA
says it is possible they could still fly two more missions after
before the end of 2006.
That schedule would rely on EVERYTHING going right, though...
and so far, the fuel sensor isn't the only issue causing some grief
for engineers working to ready Discovery for launch.
While maneuvering a
boom-mounted platform in the Vehicle Assembly Building to clean up
debris caused by a broken ceiling lamp this week, workers
accidentally caught the shuttle's robot arm with the edge of the
platform. The arm was stowed in its position along the left side of
the shuttle's payload bay.
Inspections are now underway to make sure the arm suffered no
mechanical damage. As workers slave to meet NASA's admittedly tight
schedule, sources told NBC, such operator errors have become more
common of late... as workers pull double shifts.