NASA officials, jolted by a component failure in last week’s shuttle booster test, predicted Wednesday that it will not take long to find and fix the problem and that the first post-Challenger flight will not suffer a major delay.
“On the outside, I think it’s measured in weeks, perhaps a couple of months,” said J. R. Thompson, director of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. “I don’t think of it having a big impact.”
The broken part, a “boot ring,” was discovered Tuesday when engineers examined a full-scale booster rocket test-fired last week at the plant of manufacturer Morton Thiokol Inc. in Brigham City, Utah. Pieces of the part were found in the nozzle of the rocket.
While engineers focused Wednesday on the nozzle’s movement for a clue, Morton Thiokol canceled the scheduled shipment Saturday to Cape Canaveral, Fla., of two aft rocket segments for the flight of the shuttle Discovery scheduled for June. The rockets were built with the same “boot ring” that broke in the full-scale test firing.
An engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the component may have failed when the rocket nozzle was swiveled to an extreme position that would be used only in an emergency return to the launch site.
Meanwhile, Rep. Manuel Lujan Jr. of New Mexico, ranking Republican on the House Science and Technology Committee, said NASA should start shopping for another rocket builder, a suggestion made even before the explosion of the shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986.