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Weather forces second shuttle delay

July 2, 2006

By Deborah Zabarenko

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – Bad weather forced NASA
to postpone the launch of the space shuttle Discovery on Sunday
for the second consecutive day, with the next launch attempt
set for Tuesday.

The decision to cancel liftoff came minutes after the seven
crew members boarded the spaceship, even before the vessel’s
hatch was closed. Hours before, NASA forecasters had estimated
only a 30 percent chance that weather would favor launch, as
thunderclouds menaced the Kennedy Space Center.

“We’ve concluded that we’re not going to have a chance to
launch today,” launch director Mike Leinbach told the crew as
they sat strapped into their shuttle seats.

“OK, we copy,” said shuttle commander Steve Lindsey.
“Looking out the window, it doesn’t look good today, and we
think that’s a great plan.”

Any rain during liftoff might damage the spaceship’s
heat-shielding tiles, and a lightning strike could knock out
the computers that control the ship. Even some kinds of thick,
high clouds make launch hazardous.

The next launch was set for 2:38 p.m. (1838 GMT) Tuesday.

Discovery’s mission is only the second since the 2003
Columbia accident, and another disaster or serious problem
likely would end the shuttle program. NASA is hoping to fly 16
more missions to complete the $100 billion space station before
the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

SAFETY DEBATE AT NASA

Shuttle safety has been at the forefront of the program
since Columbia disintegrated on re-entry, killing seven
astronauts. NASA has twice redesigned the shuttle’s fuel tank,
which shed insulating foam that triggered the accident.

The agency’s top engineer and chief of safety wanted more
repairs on the tank before Discovery was launched, but NASA
administrator Michael Griffin overruled them, arguing that if
foam falls again from the fuel tank and damages the shuttle,
the crew could stay aboard the space station and await rescue.

Griffin said this debate over safety is a good thing.

“NASA had been criticized in the past for adhering to
groupthink, for enforcing a needless conformity in
decision-making,” Griffin said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “We
have difficult, technically complex and subtle decisions to
make … We did the best analysis we can, and we make a
decision, and I’m comfortable with that.”

Delaying the launch would put more pressure on the
shuttles, which are the only vehicles that can deliver and
install the station’s remaining trusses, solar arrays and
laboratories.

The agency plans two more flights this year and about four
a year until the station is finished and the fleet is retired.

NASA had hoped to resume space station construction last
year, but the shuttle’s fuel tank failed its first test flight.
Engineers then removed two long wind deflectors from the tank,
which had shed foam during Discovery’s 2005 liftoff.


Source: reuters



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