The next space shuttle mission will be delayed to check for dangerous wiring problems after a short circuit knocked out two crucial rocket engine computers during last month's flight of Columbia, NASA officials said today.
Endeavour's mission to map Earth's surface with a sophisticated space radar will be postponed from Sept. 16 until early October, shuttle manager Don McMonagle told a news conference.
Technicians will inspect cables that run behind the walls of the shuttle's 60-foot cargo bay, looking for damaged insulation. A chafed cargo bay wire is being blamed for a short circuit that knocked out computers on two of Columbia's three main engines moments after liftoff July 23.
Another computer failure on those engines would have triggered an engine shutdown and led to a risky emergency landing.
"I believe we had what we could call a close call," said McMonagle.
Postflight inspections of Columbia also revealed a second, less seriously damaged wire in the same location as the short circuit, but on the opposite side of the cargo bay. NASA officials suspect that work platforms in those locations, used during preflight preparations, increased the likelihood of a technician damaging the wire bundles. The platforms were recently used on Endeavour.
The launch delay is also likely to affect an emergency repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope by shuttle Discovery, which has been scheduled for Oct. 14.