This Week at Cape Canaveral

This was a trying week for NASA: Photo Credit: NASA, imagery Alan Walters

This week at Cape Canaveral was one rife with disappointment for NASA. Numerous attempts to launch the space shuttle Discovery – all met with failure. Meanwhile over at United Space Alliance, more workers that put America into space for years – were laid off.

Problem after Problem Delay Discovery’s Final Launch

Discovery is the oldest orbiter in the shuttle fleet and it was hard to argue that her age was starting to show a bit during the attempts to get her off the ground for her final mission – STS-133.

A fuel leak was found in Discovery’s orbital engine system. NASA, ever cautious, continued leak checks on the orbiter. The leak appeared where propellant lines converge near the aft of the space shuttle in what is called the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS). The leak was relatively small, but given that it was the toxic monomethyl hydrazine propellant that was leaking – all precautions were taken.

Then more leaks, this time hydrogen and helium leaks. These leaks were in the same location, but unrelated. While the fuel leak did not impact the Nov. 1 launch date – these pushed the launch back not once – but twice. Now Discovery would launch no earlier than Nov. 3.

Just when all the issues seemed resolved an electrical problem with the engine controllers on Discovery’s main engine number three popped up. It appeared that a dirty circuit breaker was to blame, but in an effort to ensure they understood the problem – the launch was pushed back yet another day to Nov. 4.

With a cold front barreling down on Kennedy Space Center, rainy weather caused yet another delay, pushing the launch of STS-133 to Nov. 5.

With clear skies above and what was hoped their troubles behind them, NASA went ahead and began tanking (fueling) Discovery for her final flight. Only to have an old issue rear its ugly head. The shuttle’s Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) began to leak shortly after fueling began. This has occurred twice before once on Discovery on STS-114 and on STS-127 with space shuttle Endeavour. Now, discovery is tentatively scheduled to launch no-earlier-than Nov. 30, at 4:05 a.m. EDT.

United Space Alliance to Lay Off More Workers

171 United Space Alliance (USA) workers at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) received their pink slips on Friday, Nov. 5. Their last day with the space firm will be Jan. 7. Many of these employees were notified in person, while some received the information that they will soon be unemployed – by mail. All total some 320 people will lose their jobs with USA nationwide.

USA has allowed those employees targeted for termination to accept voluntary separation. Currently there are some 4,100 individuals employed by USA that work at KSC. However, that number will continue to dwindle come April when another round of layoffs will strike. In total, roughly 8,000 workers will lose their jobs when the shuttle program draws to a close. With President Obama’s cancellation of virtually all elements of the Constellation Program (the one-time successor to shuttle) the future of America’s manned space flight program – remains up in the air.

This Week in Cape Canaveral History

November 3, 1994: NASA launched Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-66 at 11:59 a.m. EDT from Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The payload for this mission was the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Sciences – 3 (ATLAS-03), which measured and studied the hole in Earth’s ozone layer. The mission duration was 10 days, 22 hours and 34 minutes.

STS-66 launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center 16 years ago this week. Image Credit: NASA

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