NASA: It does still work; it just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

September 8th, 2006

Tonight NASA announced that despite not resolving the fuel cell coolant pump issue that they scrubbed the Wednesday launch over, they’re going to try and launch Atlantis at 11:41 eastern Friday.  Fuel cell motor problem?  Can anyone say “Apollo 13″? Shuttle launch to go ahead despite wonky motor 

NASA spent 48 hours trying to diagnose a little electric motor similar to a car starter after a glitch was found in one of the three fuel cells that provides the shuttle with electricity. The motor runs the cell’s coolant pump, which was giving erratic readings.

The problem has grounded the $2-billion shuttle and stalled construction of the $100-billion International Space Station. The little motor was manufactured in 1976 by a company that has changed hands five times since then. And lives depend on it.

In four hours of “intense” closed-door discussions, NASA decided the wonky motor isn’t a safety hazard. It does still work; it just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

“We had another fun and very interesting meeting,” said Wayne Hale, boss of the shuttle program. “If you ever want to see the difference between the old NASA and the new NASA, you should have gone over there today. There was a chance for everyone to participate. All the data was laid out on the table for everyone to examine, from the top of the agency to the most junior engineer.

“It was very nearly unanimous, with just a few folks voicing concern,” he said. A further meeting was set for 1 a.m. today.

The shuttle is scheduled to launch a 11:41 ET today. Saturday is a backup launch date.

If Friday’s launch doesn’t pan out, they’ll try again on Saturday, which is a day later than their original deadline — which is silly too.  If they previously decided that it’d be too dark to launch after Friday, why, other than desperation, are they now pushing back their deadline?

At least their decision not to launch outside of optimal lighting conditions is just so that they can film the launch and review the film for debris that may have caused damage doesn’t increase the safety of the launch, it just makes it more likely that they’ll be aware of potential problems upon return.

I’m all for space exploration.  I just hope that they don’t write off all the shuttles before I get a chance to go see a launch.

Entry Filed under: Technology

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