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Lightning Delays Launch of Space Shuttle

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wpwx694

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Aug 26, 10:04 PM EDT

Lightning Delays Launch of Space Shuttle

By MIKE SCHNEIDER


Associated Press Writer


AP Photo/PHIL SANDLIN

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NASA Delays Launch of Shuttle Atlantis




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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- NASA officials decided Saturday to delay the launch of space shuttle Atlantis by 24 hours to give engineers more time to determine whether one of the most powerful lightning strikes ever at a Kennedy Space Center launch pad caused any problems.

The launch, planned for Sunday, now won't happen until at least Monday. It was the first time a lightning strike at the launch pad had caused a shuttle launch delay.

The lightning Friday didn't hit the shuttle - it struck a wire attached to a tower used to protect the spacecraft from such strikes at the launch pad - but it created a lightning field around the vehicle, NASA managers said.

There was no indication that any system was damaged, but if repairs were needed they would likely take days, not weeks, said Leroy Cain, launch integration manager.




"We know just enough to know that we don't know enough to be able to press on into a launch situation," Cain said.

Engineers wanted time to pore over data on ground and flight systems. They planned to focus on backup power lines on the shuttle and an explosive used during a launch to separate the shuttle's external fuel tank from fuel-vent arm. Technicians reported a charred smell coming from that area.

"We'll open up some cable trays to make sure there's nothing burned down inside," launch director Mike Leinbach said.

The lightning strike at the launch pad was more than three times stronger than the average lightning strike and thousands of times more powerful than an electric chair, said Vladimir Rakov, co-director of the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing at the University of Florida.



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Lightning has foiled space launches before.

In 1987, an unmanned Atlas Centaur rocket carrying a Navy communications satellite was destroyed after a strike just after launch. Apollo 12 was struck twice by lightning after launch, knocking out nine nonessential systems, but the flight went on as a success.

NASA managers had been concerned about storms passing through the area before launch time Sunday.

Shuttle weather officers had said earlier in the day that there was a 60 percent chance the weather would prevent the shuttle from blasting off at the scheduled launch time of 4:30 p.m. EDT Sunday.

NASA won't launch if there are storms within 23 miles of the shuttle landing runway, in case astronauts need to make an emergency landing.

The forecast was expected to improve dramatically for Monday and Tuesday, with only a 20 percent chance that weather would prevent a launch on either of those days. NASA plans had four potential launch times over five days.

Shuttle weather officers also were tracking Tropical Storm Ernesto, which was likely to enter the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday or Wednesday and threatened to reach hurricane strength. Ernesto wasn't expected to affect a launch early in the week, but it could cause problems if Atlantis doesn't lift off until later in the week.

In a worst-case scenario, if Ernesto were to strike Texas after the shuttle's launch and workers were forced to evacuate Mission Control in Houston, the shuttle astronauts would have to leave the station and return to Earth at the first opportunity. An evacuation would mean flight controllers couldn't sufficiently support a mission as complex as this, which will attach an addition to the space station, NASA managers said.

In that situation, NASA controllers and the astronauts would make every effort to leave the 17 1/2-ton addition the shuttle is carrying at the space station. That $372 million addition has two solar power wings that eventually will provide a quarter of the station's electricity.

Construction of the half-built space station has been on hiatus since the 2003 Columbia disaster, which killed seven astronauts.

Atlantis' mission is the first of 15 flights scheduled to finish building the space station before the cargo-carrying shuttles are retired in 2010.

---

AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.

---

On the Net:

NASA: http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/

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wpwx694

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STS-115 Atlantis- 19th Space Station Flight
Launch Window - Aug 27 - Sept 13, 2006
UPDATE:Target Launch Date - Aug 29, 2006 at 3:42 PM EST
 

wpwx694

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Update: NASA execs considering delaying shuttle launch

NASA execs considering delaying shuttle launch

06:41 PM CDT on Sunday, August 27, 2006

Associated Press

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—The chances that the space shuttle Atlantis would be launched into orbit this week diminished by the hour Sunday as NASA prepared for Tropical Storm Ernesto and the possibility of moving the spacecraft into shelter.

Workers on Sunday rolled to the launch pad a gigantic crane that could be used to move generators and other heavy gear at the launch pad in case the shuttle is moved back to the protection of the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building.

In addition, the huge crawler-transporter vehicle that would carry the shuttle was being run through tests, and crews prepared to make room inside the assembly building to accommodate the shuttle.

NASA officials planned to decide Sunday night whether to roll back or continue with a Tuesday launch attempt. Engineers must make that decision two days before the area is hit by winds of 45 mph.


AP

The crew of STS-115 Atlantis shuttle.

“We have two competing objectives. One, we want to get the vehicle ready to fly. The other objective is we want to get the vehicle ready to roll back,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator. “At some point in the sequence you have to give up one or the other.”

Earlier Sunday, NASA delayed the launch from Monday to Tuesday in order to give engineers more time to figure out if a lightning strike Friday damaged the spacecraft’s solid fuel rocket boosters and other systems. Liftoff originally had been set for Sunday afternoon.

A National Hurricane Center forecast put the eye of Ernesto on Florida’s west coast, due west of the Kennedy Space Center, on Thursday morning.

If Atlantis moved back to the assembly building Tuesday, it could be returned to the pad and launched nine or 10 days later at the earliest, even though the fastest time NASA has done something like that is 11 days in 1999.

NASA has returned the shuttle to the Vehicle Assembly Building 16 times with an average launch day of 42 days. But Gerstenmaier was still hopeful about launching, even if there is only a single day left in the launch window to try.

“If we had a good opportunity to get off on that one day, in this unique situation, we might target for that one day,” he said.

The launch window for this mission only goes through Sept. 13 because NASA wants to launch the shuttle to the space station during daylight so it can photograph the shuttle’s external fuel tank, where insulating foam has fallen off during previous launches. The shuttle Columbia was doomed after foam hit a wing, causing a breach that allowed hot gases to penetrate during its return to Earth.

NASA hoped to launch Atlantis before Sept. 7 to prevent a traffic jam at the space station since a Russian Soyuz vehicle is set to blast off in mid-September carrying two new station crew members and a space tourist.

If NASA launches later, it will have to persuade the Russians to change their launch date and land at night—something the Russians do not want to do because they have a new private firm handling capsule recovery.

“We’ll talk to the Russians ... we’ll get a general feel for them on what they think is the right thing to do,” Gerstenmaier said.

There were no immediate indications that any damage was caused by Friday’s lightning bolt, one of the most powerful recorded at a Kennedy Space Center launch pad. Rather than hitting the shuttle directly it struck a wire attached to a tower used to protect the spacecraft from such strikes—but it created a strong electrical field around the vehicle.

The solid rocket booster system wasn’t powered up at the time so engineers didn’t get enough data about the lightning’s effect on the boosters, which provide the main thrust to lift the shuttle off the launch pad, said NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham.

Atlantis’ planned mission is the first of 15 flights scheduled to finish constructing the half-built space station before the cargo-carrying shuttles are retired in 2010. Construction has been on hiatus since the 2003 Columbia disaster, which killed seven astronauts.







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rdale

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That's old. Decision time is 7am EDT Monday. They likely will call for a rollback on Tuesday around noontime. but odds are looking pretty good that call will be canceled on Tuesday.

From there it'll take a few days to get things up and running, so my guess is launch around the weekend.

If they do roll back, it likely won't go til next month.
 
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