August 27, 2006 in Nation/World

Lightning puts shuttle on hold

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Space shuttle Atlantis waits on pad 39B as thunderclouds move in Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center.
(Full-size photo)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – 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 today, 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.

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