Archive for Sunday, August 5, 2001

Concerns rise over shuttle fuel injectors

August 5, 2001

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— NASA managers likely will decide today whether to delay Thursday's planned launch of shuttle Discovery and replace a part in one of the shuttle's rocket boosters.

A Saturday teleconference among senior shuttle officials failed to resolve the issue. The part in question is a fuel injector inside one of the hydraulics units that swivels the boosters' nozzles. The nozzles direct the boosters' thrust, steering the shuttle for the first two-and-a-half minutes of flight. Failure of the part could be catastrophic.

Routine tests of booster components flown on past shuttle missions recently uncovered minor flaws and cracks in some of the fuel injectors. A bent injector showing the worst cracking damage was manufactured before production processes changed in the early 1980s. One of Discovery's injectors a small tube the size of the ink cartridge inside a ballpoint pen comes from the same production lot.

Initially, engineers were concerned the damage might be related to manufacturing or wear from aging. However, further analysis suggests the cracking could have come from inadvertent damage during handling.

NASA managers are scheduled to meet again at 5 p.m. today to try to settle the issue.

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