Engineers struggled Thursday to resolve a potentially crippling glitch with a telescope aboard the shuttle Columbia that could force NASA to delay the ship’s launching Saturday on a long-delayed astronomy mission.
The problem involved a loss of data from one of the four telescopes making up Columbia’s $150-million astronomy payload. If a suspect electrical unit has to be replaced, the shuttle’s launching could be delayed for up to a week, engineers said.
Among the recommendations under study was launching Columbia “as is” or delaying the launching for repairs and proceeding instead with a fuel loading test Friday to make sure a hydrogen leak that grounded the shuttle in May has been eliminated.
Engineers did not rule out the possibility of finding a “quick fix” for the telescope problem, and a management meeting was planned to debate the results of tests.
“It’s not looking very good,” said one official who requested anonymity.
Columbia and its seven-man crew are scheduled to blast off at 1:17 a.m. EDT Saturday in NASA’s first shuttle flight in four months after a disappointing summer of fuel leaks that grounded the shuttle fleet.
Commander Vance Brand, co-pilot Guy Gardner, John (Mike) Lounge, Jeffrey Hoffman, Robert Parker and civilian astronomers Ronald Parise and Samuel Durrance flew to Florida on Wednesday for final preparations.
At launching pad 39A Thursday, engineers spent the day trouble-shooting a problem with the Broad Band X-ray Telescope, one of four astronomical instruments mounted in Columbia’s payload bay.
Ground data from the high-tech telescope was interrupted and then lost when Columbia’s left-hand payload bay door was closed for launching, prompting speculation that a cable was damaged.
But tests to make sure that the telescope’s data transmission system was working properly were not successful and sources said an electronic “black box” might have to be replaced. If so, launching could be delayed a week or more.