December 09, 2007
STS-122 Delayed to January
Early today, one of the sensors inside the liquid hydrogen section of Atlantis' external fuel tank gave a false reading while the tank was being filled. NASA had decided to launch only if all four sensors were functioning properly, and planned to let Mission Control call the crew if a fuel leak or other problem required an early shutdown of the engines. This procedure reduced the launch window to only 60 seconds. But the failure of a sensor during the countdown compromised this procedure. So the launch has been postponed until no earlier than January 2. The crew will be heading back to Houston tonight.
How this delay impacts the rest of the assembly missions remains to be seen. STS-122's Eyharts is to replace Expedition crewmember Tani, so the immediate impact is that Tani will remain on the station for an extra month. Whitson remains in command of the station with Malenchenko as flight engineer. Eyharts was to come back on STS-123 in February. Whitson and Malenchenko are to come back on the same Soyuz that took them up. However, if STS-123 slips past the April Soyuz flight, Eyharts will likely come down on the Soyuz instead of Whitson because otherwise, there would be no American on the station.
Although these delays are disappointing, they are nothing new in the space business. I'm sure we all are hoping the questions with the sensors can be resolved quickly, and STS-122 will launch at the earliest opportunity in January.
In the meantime, we all should remember that it is better to be delayed than risk an accident. Please have a safe holiday, everyone!
Posted by m_dyson at December 9, 2007 01:53 PM