August 20, 2006

Space shuttle repair complete

By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Workers at the Kennedy
Space Center on Sunday completed a delicate launch pad repair
job on the shuttle Atlantis, which is being prepared for
liftoff next week to restart International Space Station

Working mid-air on platforms to reach the top of Atlantis'
60-foot(18-metre)-long payload bay, technicians removed two
short bolts that held the main communications antenna in place
and installed longer fasteners.

"The bolt change-out is all done. They're just removing all
the work platforms," said Kennedy Space Center spokeswoman
Tracy Young.

The wrong bolts have been in place since Atlantis was
manufactured 25 years ago. Torque tests done before the old
bolts were removed showed that the antenna was securely
anchored, Young said.

"As a precaution, we changed them out anyway. Better to be
safe than sorry," she said.

Incorrectly sized antenna bolts also were found and
replaced on shuttles Discovery and Endeavour. Atlantis already
had been moved to the launch pad when the error was brought to
the attention of NASA managers. Replacing the bolts while the
shuttle was in a vertical position at the pad greatly
complicated the procedure.

The shuttle's cargo bay is filled with a 35,000-pound
(15,750-kg) station power module that holds new solar arrays
and a rotary joint so the panels can track the sun. Atlantis is
scheduled for liftoff on August 27 on NASA's first construction
mission in nearly four years.

Construction on the half-built space station stopped after
the 2003 Columbia disaster. Since then, NASA has flown two
shuttle missions to test safety upgrades imposed after the
fatal accident.

The agency needs to finish building the station before the
shuttles, which are the only vehicles suited for the job, are
retired in 2010. About 16 more flights are planned.