In The Field

The Perfect Storm

Today was supposed to be launch day, but instead, journalists walked out of the afternoon press briefing wondering if there would be any launch at all. Weather seems to be conspiring against the lift off.

First, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, announced that Friday’s lightning strike required further evaluation of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. Mission engineers are fearful that the booster’s pyrotechnic bolts and other systems may have been damaged by the strike. The launch has been pushed back until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest.

Second, hurricane Ernesto, the year’s first, has taken an unexpected turn. NASA officials are now concerned that the hurricane could strike Cape Canaveral. “We’d like to have the vehicle back in the vertical assembly building before high winds hit the Cape,” says Gerstenmaier. “That forces us to start taking some action fairly soon.”

The team is in a quandary, Gerstenmaier continued. On the one hand, they want to get the shuttle ready to fly. On the other, they need to prepare to move it into the relative safety of the vehicle assembly building. At some point, they will have to choose which they will do. “That point in time hasn’t occurred yet,” he said. “But it’s coming this evening.”


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