Computer glitch stymies shuttle launch

Computer glitch stymies shuttle launch

By Tony Lee Orr
GCN Staff

FEB. 1—A balky backup computer system forced NASA to scrub today's launch of the space shuttle Endeavour.

The glitch occurred during an initial launch attempt Monday in the shuttle's backup master events controller, said Kelly Humphries, a NASA spokesman at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The controller is one of two such devices that govern commands for solid rocket booster ignition and for booster and external tank separation during flight.

Operating with only one controller puts the six-man crew at risk of a Critical One failure—complete loss of ship and crew—if the remaining one malfunctions.

The No. 2 controller, in the aft engine compartment, failed a standard test procedure just before the planned 20-minute hold during the countdown Monday, Humphries said. During the test, computers send the 65-pound, microwave-oven-size avionics boxes a series of commands that prompt a response. In this case, the response wasn't the one expected.

The controller later passed the test, Humphries said.

"It wasn't proven to be bad or good," he said. "It was working at the last minute. [Launch officials] had decided they could go ahead and launch."

Sheets of rain and dense clouds changed their minds.

"When the weather kept them from going, the team of engineers met throughout the evening and overnight to better understand the failure and why it passed an additional test," Humphries said. This morning, although the weather had improved, "they decided to go ahead and change out [the controller] since they didn't understand what happened."

The controller will be removed and analyzed to isolate the glitch. The earliest Endeavour could now launch is Feb. 9.


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