Agency Considers Possibility Of Loose Bolts Within Engines
Senior managers with NASA's space shuttle program began a
two-day flight readiness review Wednesday, to discuss whether to
send the oft-delayed Atlantis into orbit next month. Among the
issues being discussed, reports Florida Today, is a possible
problem with bolts within the shuttle's three main engines.
Those bolts hold each engine's Low Pressure Oxidizer Turbopump
within its housing inside the liquid-fueled engines. Engineers have
discovered the silver-plated sleeve inserts the bolts are fastened
to could be corroded; if that is the case, the pumps could loosen
inside the engines during launch, and trigger a catastrophic liquid
NASA first became aware of the problem when engineers at
Mississippi's Stennis Space Center found one of the 14 bolt inserts
holding the turbopump became loose before an engine test -- the
third time that's happened in five years, and the eighth occurrence
overall throughout the 26-year history of the program. The problem
has never cropped up during an actual test.
The agency has determined the problem is most likely to occur on
inserts greater than 16 years old. NASA ordered special, oversized
versions of the inserts, treated with an anti-corrosion agent, be
fitted to shuttle engines to solve the problem.
That decision came after Atlantis -- which was originally due to launch in
early March, before a freak hailstorm hit the Cape --
was already prepped, however. NASA asked for a launch waiver, as
the inserts within the engines onboard Atlantis are between three
and nine years old. Boroscope inspections also indicate the bolts
are just fine, and no leakages have been seen during prelaunch
That waiver needs to be approved during the flight readiness
review, and the possibility of a launch delay to address the issue
remains on the table.
"It's obviously going to be discussed thoroughly," said Kyle
Herring, a spokesman for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"Both sides will be brought to management, and then they'll be able
to make a decision."
The review is expected to wrap up by noon EDT Thursday. Stay