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Shuttle Missions To Continue - Dates rescheduled

Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC
Printed with permission of the Houston Chronicle

July 27, 2002, 12:59AM

NASA plans to resume launches
September mission will be first since June 25 grounding
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle
NASA said Friday it plans to end a suspension of shuttle launches in late
September with an assembly mission to the international space station. 

The space agency grounded its four shuttles on June 25 after technicians
spotted tiny fuel line cracks on Atlantis and Discovery. Subsequent
inspections revealed cracks on Columbia and Endeavour. 

When the suspension was announced, Columbia had been scheduled to lift
off July 19 on a 16-day orbital research mission that was to feature the
flight of the first Israeli astronaut, Ilon Ramon. 

Columbia's flight will likely be re-scheduled for December, Ron Dittemore
and Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space shuttle and station program managers,
said Friday. 

With the change in flight scheduling, Atlantis is tentatively scheduled
to lift off on Sept. 26 with a large new segment for the station's solar
power system. Endeavour would follow on Nov. 2 with another solar power
system component and three new tenants for the 240-mile high orbital
base, the officials said. 

Current space station tenants Peggy Whitson, Valery Korzun and Sergei
Treschev would return to Earth aboard Endeavour in mid-November, about a
month later than planned as they blasted off for the orbital base on June

The latest mission scheduling is contingent on a decision next week by
NASA to repair the 11 cracks on the four spacecraft with welds, Dittemore

When the defects were first detected, he suspended the flights fearing
they could pose a safety risk. In the worst case, the cracks might grow
and allow pieces of the thin metal fuel lines to flow into a rocket
engine turbo pump and cause an explosion. 

Space agency experts have not pinned down the precise cause of the
cracks, which range from one-tenth to three-tenths of an inch. However,
they have concluded the shuttles have been flying with the defects for
years and the cracks escaped detection because of their small size. 

With the proper repair strategy and more rigorous post-flight inspections
of the fuel lines, the launches can safely resume while an investigation
into their cause continues, Dittemore said. 

A series of upcoming tests will examine fuel line flow pressures and
vibrations to measure how much stress those forces are placing on small
fuel line perforations. One theory is that microscopic flaws in the
borders of the perforations may serve as breeding sites for the cracks. 

In a related development, NASA said Friday that one of three astronauts
in training to replace Whitson, Korzun and Treschev in November as the
next resident crew of the space station has been replaced for medical

Rookie astronaut Don Pettit, who has been training as a backup, will
replace Don Thomas, a veteran astronaut. Pettit will join U. S. astronaut
Ken Bowersox and Russian cosmonaut Nikolai Budarin for a three-month
space station visit. 

NASA spokesman Doug Peterson said the space agency observes a privacy
policy that prevents it from disclosing the specific nature of the
medical problem that disqualified Thomas. 

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