A 2,500-pound metal bucket used to transport workers smashed into the top of the space shuttle Discovery on Friday, breaking a technician's leg and causing damage that forced a fifth delay of Sen. Jake Garn's trip into space, National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said.
The space agency said it was too early to assess the extent of damage. Spokesman Charles Redmond said he expects the flight, which had been scheduled to begin March 28 or 29, to be delayed until April.
Officials said they did not know what caused the heavy bucket, which is large enough to hold two persons, to fall. However, experts were inspecting its hydraulic hoist. A board of specialists began an investigation, which NASA spokesman Dick Young said could take several days.
The accident occurred at about 8 a.m. in a hangar where Discovery was being prepared to be moved later Friday into an assembly building to be fitted with its two booster rockets and external fuel tank. That move was scrubbed indefinitely until damage is repaired.
Officials said the large bucket, which is used to position workers along the 60-foot length of the bay, fell onto a steel work platform. Technician Gary Sutherland, who was standing on the platform, suffered a broken leg.
NASA said the bucket struck the left cargo bay door about six feet from the point where the bay joins the main shuttle cabin. Officials said the impact damaged several heat protection tiles and the door's structure.
Specialists were being flown here from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and from the California plant of Rockwell International, which built the shuttle.
Garn, a Utah Republican, is on the crew as a congressional observer in his role as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA spending.