For lack of horsepower, the drill would not work; for want of a drill, the bolt was stuck; for want of the bolt, the hatch handle would not budge and, while technicians awaited another drill and tried a hacksaw, an Arctic cold front blew away the good weather.
That was how the day went here at Kennedy Space Center where schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe and six other crew members lay on their backs in their high-tech seats aboard the shuttle Challenger for five hours, until nearly 1 p.m. Then their mission was scrubbed at least until Tuesday in the second postponement in two days.
Thousands of schoolchildren and other shuttle-watchers shivered along nearby highways today in temperatures around 40 degrees with winds gusting to 30 mph.
Several busloads of people from McAuliffe's home town of Concord, N.H., have been here for five days or more. Many were trying to decide whether to go home, as some parents wanted, or to stay, as the children wanted, in hopes the flight will go off on the next try. That attempt may come as early as 9:38 a.m. Tuesday.
The frost and ice that formed on the shuttle's red 18-story external fuel tank? The cloud cover at 4,000 feet during part of the morning? Neither was a problem.
This time it was the hatch handle. On Sunday, it was the weather.
The handle, used by the ground-support crew, is removed before liftoff. The titanium bolt by which it is attached "apparently was stripped" and the handle could not be removed, said Robert Seick, director of shuttle operations.
Technicians tried a battery-operated drill, but the titanium was too strong for it. Then specialists were summoned to make sure that no explosive gases were wafting around the hatch so they could use a plug-in drill. Meanwhile, technicians used a hacksaw to cut away part of the handle.
The weather was acceptable for launch until about 10:15 a.m., Seick said. But after the hour needed to fix the handle, "the crosswinds got us," he said. "It was really disappointing."
The same team prepares for every shuttle launch, working in three eight-hour shifts daily to perform uncounted complex tasks. The last shuttle mission, flown this month by the orbiter Columbia, had six launch delays after the fuel tanks had been filled and the crew was aboard.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said ground-crew exhaustion is now a concern.