Stuck Pin Delays Shuttle's Trek to Launch Pad
In the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, space shuttle Atlantis is moved across the I-beam toward the waiting external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters in high bay 3 on Aug. 23, 2008.
Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

NASA engineers successfully freed a stuck metal pin on the space shuttle Atlantis late Tuesday, but the work delayed plans to roll the spacecraft out to its Florida launch pad this week.

Atlantis was slated to move out its seaside Launch Pad 39A at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday, but a metal guide pin that jammed while engineers attempted to route a liquid hydrogen fuel line between the shuttle and its external fuel tank set the process back a few days.

?They got it out last night,? NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel of KSC told SPACE.com of the pin today. The space shuttle is now scheduled to roll out to the launch pad no earlier than next Tuesday morning.

Atlantis is slated to launch early Oct. 8 at 1:34 a.m. EDT (0534 GMT) with seven astronauts aboard to pay a final service call on the iconic Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA opted to delay Atlantis? launch pad move to allow time for inspections and the reattachment of the fuel line umbilical, agency officials said. Launch preparations were also delayed by several days last week when NASA closed down its Florida spaceport during Tropical Storm Fay, but Atlantis work crews had some time to spare, they added.

?We have several days of cushion time,? Beutel said.

NASA shuttle workers had about 11 days of padding in their Atlantis work schedule before Tropical Storm Fay hit, said KSC spokesperson Candrea Thomas. The team will still have three days in reserve on Tuesday, when Atlantis is expected to begin the 3.5-mile (5.6-km) trip to Launch Pad 39A at about 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT), she added.

Beutel also told SPACE.com that while Atlantis is prepared for flight, engineers are also hunting for the source of an odd sound heard when another shuttle fuel tank, reserved for the Endeavour orbiter, was hoisted into a vertical position. A series of checks have found no damage to the tank or its surrounding support structure to date, he added.

Endeavour is currently slated to launch Nov. 10 to deliver supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. But NASA is also priming the shuttle to serve as a rescue ship for Atlantis? crew should that spacecraft suffer critical heat shield damage.

Unlike NASA?s recent shuttle missions, Atlantis astronauts will not be able to seek refuge aboard the space station if their spacecraft is damaged because the Hubble telescope is in a higher orbit and different inclination than the station. NASA plans to perch Endeavour atop a second shuttle launch pad and ready it to fly within 25 days of an emergency, if required, Atlantis astronauts have said.

Atlantis? mission to Hubble will mark NASA?s fifth and final shuttle flight to upgrade the orbital observatory. Shuttle astronauts are expected to replace gyroscopes, batteries, install new instruments and equipment, and make unprecedented repairs during the 11-day mission?s five back-to-back spacewalks.

The Hubble mission is also NASA?s fourth of up to five planned shuttle flights scheduled for 2008.