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NASA Delays Decision On Removing Space Shuttle From Launch Pad

July 18, 1988

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Discovery’s tiny fuel leak has been stopped but not fixed, and officials have decided to test-fire the ship’s three main engines before deciding whether to remove the space shuttle from the launch pad for repairs.

While preparing for that crucial July 28 test, engineers will decide if there is a way to fix the difficult-to-reach leak on the pad, whether the leak can be isolated from the fuel system or if it is so insignificant that is does not pose a flight hazard if left as is.

″By draining and purging the line, engineers have stabilized the leak and feel it is safe to proceed with the flight readiness firing,″ Chuck Hollinshead, director of public affairs at the Kennedy Space Center, said Sunday.

If Discovery has to be rolled back to a hangar, its planned launch as the first post-Challenger shuttle flight would be delayed up to two months. The flight readiness firing of the three engines already has been delayed two days, so even if the shuttle stays on the pad, there likely will be a delay of at least a few days of the Sept. 6 launch target date.

The decision Sunday by shuttle managers came after engineers traced the source of the gas leak to a fitting on a line leading to an oxidizer tank that serves a steering engine system.

The steering engines maneuver the shuttle in orbit and are separate from the main propulsion engines that are to be test fired.

The oxidizer tank is deep within an engine compartment and engineers said the leak probably could not be reached without removing the 22-foot-high compartment, a very complex operation never before done on the launch pad.

By going ahead with the test firing, shuttle managers hope to minimize lost time if Discovery has to be taken off the pad. Engineers have completed two weeks of preparation for the test, operations they would have to repeat if the firing were conducted after the shuttle was taken back to the hangar and then returned to the pad.

The flight readiness firing will check engine modifications made since the Challenger explosion and provide the launch team with valuable launch countdown practice.

Discovery is being prepared for the first shuttle mission since Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, killing its crew of seven.

The flight originally was scheduled for February but has been postponed five times because of various technical problems.

Five veteran shuttle crew members are to ride Discovery on a four-day mission during which they are to deploy a communications satellite, conduct experiments and check out more than 200 modifications made since the Challenger accident.

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