Wednesday, July 13


No, it wasn't the weather after all. It wasn't even the dinged tiles from yesterday, or anything to do with falling debris on the orbiter.
But no, it wasn't something completely new either. It was a gremlin from the recent past, a malfunctioning fuel gauge that had showed up back in April, and never really got figured out, but the engineers convinced themselves it was ok. It wasn't. Can't fly with a busted fuel gauge, even if it is one of four redundant units. Safety demands it.
So the earliest they could fly, if they find it and fix it very fast, is Saturday. If it's harder, they might have to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building. In that case, they almost certainly can't meet the July launch window, and would have to defer until Sept. 9 at the earliest. We'll probably know by tomorrow sometime.

Tuesday, July 12

T minus 1 and counting

I've been betting against it for a while, but NASA might just surprise me and launch the shuttle Discovery, on the first post-Columbia mission, on tomorrow's opening of the launch window after all.
Not that there haven't been multiple slips along the way, including a real doozy today: a falling window-covering panel that dinged some of the thermal tiles. Echoes of the last, disastrous flight! But no, it turns out these particular tiles, on the top of the Orbital Maneuvering System pod, are easy to replace, they've switched them out, and all is still go for launch at 3:51 pm EDT tomorrow.
Not that the weather doesn't still threaten. Probability of meeting the weather criteria, for both wind and rain, was downgraded today from 70 to 60 percent. I had hoped to be at Cape Canaveral for the launch, but as it gets closer and the weather gets worse, I vividly remember so many long stays at the Cape waiting for shuttle missions to take off. I'll be sorry if this does take off on time and I'm not there, but I will feel some real relief, and real sympathy for my colleagues down there, if this ends up dragging on with multiple delays.
Registered media for this STS-114 launch: 2650. That's about the same as the first post-Challenger launch, which I did see, and the John Glenn flight, which I did not. And it's way, way more than the turnout for STS-1, on April 12 1981, the maiden voyage of Columbia and the world's first flight by a reusable rocket. Now that one was suspenseful -- ironically, mostly because of uncertainty about damaged tiles that were thought to pose a risk for the re-entry. John Young, the right-stuff Apollo-veteran astronaut who was commanding the mission, looked really surpised when they made it back OK.