Stuck Pin Delays Shuttle's Trek to Launch Pad

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. (Image credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

NASA engineerssuccessfully 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 padthis week.

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

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

Atlantis isslated to launch early Oct. 8 at 1:34 a.m. EDT (0534 GMT) with seven astronautsaboard to paya final service call on the iconic Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA optedto delay Atlantis? launch pad move to allow time for inspections and thereattachment of the fuel line umbilical, agency officials said. Launchpreparations were also delayedby several days last week when NASA closed down its Florida spaceport duringTropical Storm Fay, but Atlantis work crews had some time to spare, they added.

?We haveseveral days of cushion time,? Beutel said.

NASA shuttleworkers had about 11 days of padding in their Atlantis work schedule beforeTropical Storm Fay hit, said KSC spokesperson Candrea Thomas. The team will stillhave three days in reserve on Tuesday, when Atlantis is expected to begin the3.5-mile (5.6-km) trip to Launch Pad 39A at about 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT),she added.

Beutel alsotold that while Atlantis is prepared for flight, engineers arealso hunting for the source of an odd sound heard when another shuttle fueltank, 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 supportstructure to date, he added.

Endeavouris currently slated to launch Nov. 10 to deliver supplies and equipment to theInternational Space Station. But NASA is also priming the shuttle to serve as arescue ship for Atlantis? crew should that spacecraft suffer critical heatshield damage.

Unlike NASA?srecent shuttle missions, Atlantis astronauts will not be able to seek refugeaboard the space station if their spacecraft is damaged because the Hubble telescopeis in a higher orbit and different inclination than the station. NASA plans to perchEndeavour atop a second shuttle launch pad and ready it to fly within 25 daysof an emergency, if required, Atlantis astronauts have said.

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

The Hubblemission is also NASA?s fourth of up to five planned shuttle flights scheduledfor 2008.


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of 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's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, 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 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.