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Launch Delay

NASA Delays Atlantis Shuttle Launch

.c The Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Jan. 16) - Space shuttle Atlantis' launch has been 
delayed until next month to allow for additional booster inspections.

NASA made the decision Monday night just hours before the countdown was to 
begin for a Friday liftoff. The five astronauts had yet to fly to Cape 
Canaveral from Houston.

The launch of the space station laboratory, Destiny, is now targeted for no 
earlier than Feb. 6.

NASA wants more time to inspect electrical cables that connect the shuttle 
with its two solid-fuel rocket boosters. The work cannot be performed at the 
launch pad; as a result, Atlantis must be returned to its hangar, most likely 
on Friday.

During the last shuttle launch on Nov. 30, an explosive device failed to work 
during Endeavour's climb to orbit because of a bad electrical connector. A 
backup charge separated the left booster two minutes into the flight as 

If the backup charge had not worked, the results could have been catastrophic.

Although the cables on Atlantis' boosters were X-rayed before the shuttle was 
transported to the launch pad two weeks ago, they were not shaken as part of 
the testing, said NASA spokesman George Diller. The shaking is meant to mimic 
the vibrations of launch.

Over the weekend, NASA tested thousands of cables throughout the shuttle 
fleet and four failed, Diller said. That prompted renewed worries about the 
cables on Atlantis, he said.

''They've still got concerns about these solid rocket booster cables, which 
are 'criticality-one' flight hardware, meaning that the safety of the flight 
cannot be assured,'' said Diller, using NASA's label for the most critical 

''We're just kind of in a position of feeling like we need more information, 
and the only way we can get that is to do some further testing on these 
cables,'' he said.

The laboratory module aboard Atlantis is so expensive - $1.4 billion - that 
NASA could not afford to build a backup version. If the lab is damaged or 
destroyed, that would set back space station construction for years.

Destiny is the most sophisticated space laboratory ever built and is the 
centerpiece of the international space station, Alpha.

NASA expects Atlantis' delay to impact the flight of space shuttle Discovery 
to the station in March.
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