Leak Repairs Under Way for Shuttle Discovery

Leak Repairs Under Way for Shuttle Discovery
In Orbiter Processing Facility bay 3, United Space Alliance and B.F. Goodrich technicians begin work to fix a leaky hydraulic seal on the starboard landing gear assembly of space shuttle Discovery. (Image credit: NASA/George Shelton.)

Engineers workedto fix a leaky hydraulic seal on NASA's space shuttle Discovery Wednesday asthe agency weighs a possible delay for the spacecraft's planned October launch.

Discoverywas slated to leave its hangar and move to the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building(VAB) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida today to be attached to itsexternal tank and rocket boosters. But a leak in one of four hydraulic seals onthe orbiter's rightmain landing gear strut prompted mission managers to hold that move andawait repairs. ?

"We'regoing to replace all four seals," Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesperson atKSC, told SPACE.com Wednesday. "They expect to have that wrapped uptoday."

Commandedby veteranshuttle flyer Pamela Melroy, Discovery's STS-120 mission is slated tolaunch Oct. 23 to deliver a vitalconnecting node to the International Space Station (ISS). Mission managersare keeping a close watch on Discovery's hydraulic seal repairs to determinewhether the extra work will delay the planned launch by a few days.

NASA detectedthe leak Thursday in a strut that serves as a shock absorber during landings.Engineers had to remove the right main landing gear tires, wheels and brakes toreplace the faulty seal and three others with the help of contractor BFGoodrich, Beutel said.

Tests toensure the new seals are in proper working order could begin as early asThursday, with Discovery's move into the 52-story VAB at NASA's Cape Canaveralspaceport slated for sometime next week, the space agency said.

NASA hasfive days of reserve time in its schedule to ready Discovery for the planned14-day STS-120 mission. Once the orbiter moves into the VAB, it traditionallytakes about a week for shuttle workers to attach the vehicle to its boostersand fuel tank for transport to the launch pad.

While a slightlaunch delay is possible for Discovery, NASA officials remain optimistic thatthe seal repairs will be completed in time for an Oct. 23 liftoff.

"It'sstill absolutely a possibility given the way the work is proceeding," Beutelsaid.

Melroy andher six STS-120 crewmates plan to perform five spacewalks at the ISS to installthe new connecting node and relocate an old solar array segment to station's port-mostedge. The new node, dubbed Harmony, will serve as the attachment point forfuture international laboratories at the space station.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.