Work Will Not Affect Launch Schedule
It's something that's never been
done before: repairing a component mounted inside the main payload
bay of the space shuttle... as the orbiter sits pointing to the
stars on the launch pad. Yet that is precisely what workers at
Kennedy Space Center are doing this weekend... in order to swap
some potentially suspect bolts holding a major communications
antenna in place.
NASA shuttle manager Wayne Hale gave Florida Today an extremely
descriptive account of the potentially dangerous repair job, to be
conducted from a work platform and scaffolding nearly six stories
above the floor of the payload bay. The job calls for a
technician to lie on his side on a skinny gangplank extending
through an airlock, and stretch out to reach the bolts holding the
antenna in place.
"So imagine operating on a surfboard that's tied down at one
end, sticking out over a six-story balcony," said Hale. "I mean,
this has got all kinds of implications."
In addition to the potential for injury, the risky repair could
also lead to accidental damage to the orbiter -- or its $372
million payload, a central truss segment bound for the
International Space Station.
But the alternative could be far worse.
As Aero-News reported last
week, engineers are worried two of the four bolts
holding the antenna in place may not be threaded properly. Without
any way of knowing for certain if the bolts are secure, NASA senior
engineers decided the repair was worth the risk -- as failure of
the bolts could lead the shuttle's 304-pound antenna to plunge
through the bay during launch, possibly resulting in catastrophic
"You have to be basically as conservative as you can, and make
the assumption that the bolts are not engaged at all," said Kyle
Herring, a spokesman for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"And when you factor that into the analysis, it makes more sense to
go ahead and change the bolts."
If all goes to schedule, the work to replace the bolts should be
wrapped up by late Sunday night -- allowing the countdown for
Atlantis' scheduled August 27 launch to remain unaffected.