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NASA Keeps Shuttle on Schedule, Watches Troubled Fuel Line

<i> From Associated Press</i>

NASA said Sunday that it does not intend to cut short the space shuttle Columbia’s 14-day mission--at least not yet, despite trouble with a fuel line connected to a crucial auxiliary power unit.

“What it boils down to at this point is that there’s still some uncertainty,” Mission Control’s Gregory Harbaugh told the space shuttle crew. “There is no discussion at this point about any kind of early mission termination.”

For the third day in a row, engineers studied unusually high pressure readings from the fuel line. Their best guess was that the line was blocked with ice or some kind of contaminant.

Lee Briscoe, mission operations director, said the analysis will continue until engineers understand what is causing the readings, which were detected a few hours into the flight Friday. The pressure in the line dropped to normal after the crew switched to backup heaters Saturday, he said.

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The shuttle’s three auxiliary power units supply power to hydraulic systems vital for launch and landing. NASA flight rules require three working auxiliary power units, although a shuttle could land safely with one. If a unit failed in orbit, a shuttle would have to return to Earth as soon as possible.

Columbia’s crew spent Sunday building Erector Set-like structures. The thin rods, once snapped together in the form of an oblong tower or space station truss, were shaken to see how they would hold up in weightlessness. Researchers say the findings will help them build stronger space platforms.

Mission Control surprised the astronauts with a short video of Friday’s liftoff that was sent to their laptop computer as part of a high-speed communications test.


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