Next Shuttle Flight: Go for Launch, Despite Dissent

Aug 16, 2006 5:30pm

Wednesday, 4:52 PM EDT Gina Sunseri, reporting for us from Houston, says STS-115, to be performed by the shuttle Atlantis, is set for August 27, with liftoff scheduled at 4:30 in the afternoon.  Gina writes: There were two dissenting votes in the go-no-go vote relating to the ice frost ramps.   The two people who voted no-go in July, safety chief Bryan O’Connor and Chief Engineer Chris Scolese voted "go" this time, apparently as long as they were assured that NASA continued to work on the issue of debris coming off the so-called ice-frost ramps that cover wiring brackets on the Shuttle’s External Tank.  The no votes came from an engineer at the Johnson Space Center and another at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.  Their concern involved bolts that hold a Ku-band television antenna in place near the front of the orbiter’s payload bay.  Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale admits for the last twenty five years they have been flying the space shuttle with bolts that were just too short on the Ku Antenna assembly.  There’s a risk that the antenna–a fairly hefty piece of equipment–could come loose on liftoff, doing damage in the payload bay.  They are trying to gauge the risk in changing the bolts out while the shuttle is on the launch pad, vs. flying with them one more time.   This analysis will go on through the weekend.  (The Shuttle Discovery during last month’s flight.  The Ku antenna is the small black disc in front of the right payload-bay door, just above the front windows in this picture.  NASA image.) Gina will add details when today’s Flight Readiness Review is over–but what she’s reported is notable for this reason: For 25 years, these final reviews before shuttle flights were pro forma; NASA managers say there were never dissenting votes because people were afraid to speak up and disrupt the shuttle flight schedule. Now there have been two in a row with dissenters.  A new normal? 

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