NASA on Thursday canceled the launching of space shuttle Columbia, scheduled for Saturday, because of a failed electronics part on one of the four telescopes in the shuttle’s cargo bay.
The launching of the shuttle with its Astro observatory mission will take place “no earlier than next Wednesday,” said Bruce Buckingham, a NASA spokesman.
The delay will give NASA a chance to put the shuttle Discovery on another pad and stay on schedule for a launching in early October.
Engineers had been struggling most of Thursday to try to establish communication with an X-ray observatory, one of the four telescopes carried in the cargo bay of the Columbia. At first, they could not determine whether the fault lay in a ground link or with the circuits inside the shuttle.
They eventually traced the problem to an “avionics box” on the X-ray telescope.
“We’re not exactly sure about how we’re going to fix that box,” Buckingham said.
The launching of the Astro observatory aboard the Columbia already had been delayed for five years. It originally had been scheduled for March, 1986, but the Challenger disaster in January, 1986, canceled all flights.
The mission was rescheduled for May 30, but, when fuel was pumped into the shuttle tanks, a leak was discovered.
The new problem surfaced after Columbia’s payload bay doors were closed Wednesday night.
The shuttle, sitting on its seaside pad, is connected with the launch control center 3 1/2 miles away with regular telephone-type lines.
Program scientist Ed Weiler said full contact with the observatory is necessary before the mission is launched. The scientific returns from the flight will not suffer if the flight must be delayed a few days, he said.
Columbia is to be the first shuttle to fly since Discovery carried the flawed Hubble Space Telescope into orbit in April. It is the longest gap between shuttle missions since flights were resumed after the Challenger disaster.