NASA finds deadly faults in shuttle tail

March 23, 2004|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,ORLANDO SENTINEL

WASHINGTON - Corrosion and faulty installation of critical parts inside the space shuttle Discovery's tail are prompting NASA to replace the equipment on all three orbiters, but the program's chief said he believes the space agency will still launch a shuttle next spring.

At the same time, officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration say they are making major progress on some of the toughest problems exposed by the loss of the shuttle Columbia in February 2003, including how to repair the spacecraft's thermal protection system in orbit.

William Parsons, head of the shuttle program, said yesterday that workers found corrosion, small cracks and gears that had been installed upside down when the rudder speed brake actuators on Discovery were taken apart in recent weeks.

The four actuators control the rudder speed brake, which is used to slow and steer the shuttle as it prepares to land. They are considered an essential component, Parsons said - meaning that a malfunction would probably mean the loss of the shuttle and its crew.

An unused spare set, which had been sitting on a shelf since it was manufactured, also had backward gears.

A new set will be installed on Discovery in May. Engineers have not yet inspected the actuators on Atlantis or Endeavour, though they are assuming they will find similar problems.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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