Shuttle Fixes Will Take At Least One Week

Nasa technicians will spend the coming week testing the space shuttle's electrical system. A problem with an electrical switch box grounded Endeavour on Friday and the agency says they'll need at least until May 8 to install and test the replacement box. KUHF Health Science and Technology reporter Carrie Feibel has the details — and the disappointment — from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

When the launch was scrubbed Friday, NASA officials said they’d work hard over the weekend and try to launch today.

But by Sunday, they knew that was not going to happen.

What had originally seemed like a minor thermostat problem turned out to be a faulty electrical box.

Mike Leinbach is the launch director:

“We won’t know for sure, until we get that box out and send it down to our malfunction lab for detailed analysis but we know the power is not getting through. And so there’s a short or an open or something like that inside that box.”

Rather than repair the box, it’s easier – and faster – to just swap it out and put a new switch box on-board.

Still, technicians will have to test the new one and make sure it’s sending power correctly to all the systems that need it, like hydraulics and life support. That means this Sunday is the earliest possible day Endeavour could fly again.

shuttle examiniation
At NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A, a technician makes his way across a platform in space shuttle Endeavour's aft section as work begins to remove and replace the aft load control assembly-2 (ALCA-2). Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

“I’m not happy about it, but I understand it.”

Ken Kremer is a pharmaceutical chemist from New Jersey.

He came to Florida to watch what would have been his seventh shuttle launch.

“And the more you’re here the more you realize how complicated the shuttle is and it’s a miracle that it ever launches on time.”

Kremer volunteers as a NASA writer for various blogs and magazines.

Every trip is expensive, and every day of delay costs him even more.

But he calls the shuttle the most magnificent machine ever built in human history, the only tool we have that can escape earth’s gravity trap and carry up objects as large as the Hubble telescope.

Nothing now, and nothing planned in the near future, can replicate that.

Plus, it’s simply a visceral thrill ride to watch it leave the planet:

“This intense flash and the intense flames and the rumbling. It’s like, it’s burning a hole in the sky and you can’t get that feeling unless you’re watching it.”

Kremer not only respects the machine itself, but also the people who ride it.

“You gotta realize that people are on top of this thing. It’s blasting off at seven million pounds. These are very brave people to do that. ‘Cause as we know there have been two very significant accidents. There is approximately a one percent chance that it could go bad.”

Because of those two accidents, the Challenger and the Columbia, NASA takes every safety precaution and says it will not rush to put Endeavor into the sky.

Still, any delay beyond mid-May could push into the launch schedule of the very last shuttle mission, of Atlantis.

Mike Moses is chair of mission management.

He says fixing Endeavour quickly is also hard because NASA has already begun shrinking its workforce.

“One of the consequences of us coming to the end of the program is we no longer have multiple teams able to do the jobs. We’re down on our resources and our staffing, so we need to make sure we know what this launch schedule is and then we’ll let the next team take a look at what they need resource wise and make sure we don’t have to move that launch date to avoid some conflicts.”

For the moment, Atlantis is still scheduled to launch June 28.

From Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I’m KUHF Health Science and Technology reporter Carrie Feibel.

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...