NASA scrubs shuttle launch for today

Shuttle Discovery launch has been scrubbed due to problems with fuel tank sensor.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., July 13, 2005

Rain threatened, but in the end, it was a technical glitch that scrubbed Wednesday's launch of the space shuttle Discovery.

There was a problem with fuel flow sensors on the external fuel tank, which work during ascent.

"This is a critical system. They have four sensors, and they require all four of them to be online for a launch," said CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood. "It's a big disappointment."

The delay will require that the tanks be drained, and Harwood believes Thursday may be too soon for another attempt.

Although it was raining lightly at noon at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA managers had brought the crew to the launch pad to begin getting into the space shuttle Discovery. At 12 noon, the forecast had had a 40 percent chance of skies clear enough for the liftoff.

Earlier, NASA managers put a brief but embarrassing setback behind them as the countdown to the first space shuttle flight in 2½ years entered its final hours Wednesday, with only those predicted thunderstorms posing some concern.

A temporary window cover fell off the shuttle (video) and damaged thermal tiles near the tail Tuesday afternoon, just two hours after NASA declared Discovery ready to return the nation to space for the first time since the Columbia disaster.

That mishap was an eerie reminder of the very thing that doomed Columbia — damage to the spaceship's fragile thermal shield.

"In any countdown, we have these problems but we don't have a horde of reporters reporting it," said

Discovery and its crew of seven had been set to blast off at 3:51 p.m. EDT on a flight to the international space station.

"There's a reserved nature you detect. It's not bubbling enthusiasm," said Harwood. "In this case, it's not the launch that counts, it's getting them back on the ground safely that counts."

Fueling of the external tank, set to begin about an hour before sunrise, was delayed while workers changed a part on a launch-pad heater. NASA officials said the swapping out of the part wasn't expected to affect the launch time.

The lightweight plastic cover on one of Discovery's cockpit windows came loose while the spaceship was on the launch pad, falling more than 60 feet and striking a bulge in the fuselage, said Stephanie Stilson, the NASA manager in charge of Discovery's launch preparations.

No one knows why the cover — held in place with tape and weighing less than 2 pounds — fell off, she said. The covers are used prior to launch to protect the windows while the shuttle is on the launch pad, then removed before liftoff.

Two tiles on an aluminum panel were damaged, and the entire panel was replaced with a spare; Stilson called it a minor repair job.

Space agency managers held one last meeting Tuesday to address lingering technical concerns and later pronounced Discovery ready to fly.

"We have done everything that we know to do," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said afterward. "Can there be something that we don't know about that can bite us? Yeah. This is a very tough business."
There is no overestimating the importance of this launch, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter King.

"Obviously, it is utterly crucial, for NASA, for the nation, for our space program, to fly a safe mission," said Griffin.
When asked if a successful return to flight would vindicate NASA, Griffin said that's not possible, that there is no recovery from that kind of a mistake.

"Through 100 years of aviation, the safety lessons that we who fly have learned and know are written in; other people's blood," Griffin said.

The families of the seven astronauts killed during Columbia's catastrophic re-entry praised the accident investigators, a NASA oversight group and the space agency itself for defining and reducing the dangers.

Like those who lost loved ones in the Apollo 1 spacecraft fire and the Challenger launch explosion, the
Columbia families said they grieve deeply "but know the exploration of space must go on."

"We hope we have learned and will continue to learn from each of these accidents so that we will be as safe as we can be in this high-risk endeavor," they said in a statement. "Godspeed, Discovery."

"We'll take [the Columbia crew's] pictures and put it on the mid-deck so we can see it every day,"
shuttle commander Eileen Collins told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Reneé Syler (video). "Because we are doing what they would want us to do and we're carrying on their mission. All of us have learned from this. We're not going to forget it."

As a result of that accident, the external fuel tank has been changed to prevent large pieces of foam from being shed on launch, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr. Hundreds of cameras have been added to give NASA a close look at any damage that may occur. Chase planes will check the shuttle for damage. On board, astronauts will use handheld cameras and a robotic arm to take a closer look. Astronauts on the space station will be watching, too.

A chunk of foam insulation the size of a carry-on suitcase fell off Columbia's fuel tank at liftoff and slammed into a reinforced carbon panel on the shuttle's wing, creating a hole that brought the spacecraft crashing down in pieces during its return to Earth on Feb. 1, 2003.

But should there be similar damage, while the astronauts may know about it, they will not be able to patch any substantial holes, reports Orr. And if major damage occurs, NASA could face a gut-wrenching decision to send the astronauts to the space station and ditch the shuttle.

Until the window cover fell, NASA's only concern was the weather.

"In one sense, this is really the beginning of the end for the space program," says Harwood (video). "They're only going to fly 15 or 18 more missions. They're going to ground the fleet and retire it by 2010 so NASA can build a new vehicle to replace it and follow the president's plan to establish a permanent base on the moon by 2020."

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Perris Calderon wrote on Electronic Punk's profile.
Ep, glad to see you come back and tidy up...did want to ask a one day favor, I want to enhance my resume , was hoping you could make me administrator for a day, if so, take me right off since I won't be here to do anything, and don't know the slightest about the board, but it would be nice putting "served administrator osnn", if can do, THANKS

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