NASA call off Shuttle launch – Rollback

by Chris Bergin

As expected, Hurricane Ernesto has forced NASA to call off the launch of Shuttle Atlantis – ordering the rollback of the vehicle to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

All eyes are now on discussions with the Russian Space Agency, as evaluations are taking place on delaying the launch of their Soyuz vehicle, to give Atlantis a chance of launching after the first week of September.



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United Space Alliance workers are carrying out dual operations, using two Crawler-Transporters for brining Atlantis back into the safety of the VAB.

First, one transporter will move the STS-116 stack – currently an MLP (Mobile Launch Platform) plus the early stacking of the Solid Rocket Boosters – into High Bay 2, making way for Atlantis to roll back into directly to the VAB. That crawler is now outside the VAB. (UPDATE: Now inside the VAB to move STS-116 stack).

The other crawler-transporter will pick up Atlantis – and the MLP she is standing on – once she is released from the launch pad, before making the eight hour journey back to the VAB. That crawler is now on the outskirts of launch pad 39B.

‘We pretty much did what we said we would do, by watching the storm and getting together and talking about it,’ said Shuttle manager Leroy Cain. ‘We made the decision this morning, cancelled out MMT meeting this morning, and told folks they should go back to their home centers until we can pick a new launch date.’
Offloading of the reactants will be completed by noon local time – at which time the pad is cleared of workers.
‘We made the decision this morning to begin preparations to bring back Atlantis to the VAB,’ said Launch Director Mike Leinbach. ‘We can’t get back into the pad until after the offloading.’
Following, will be the disconnecting of the ordinance on the Shuttle, ahead of the first movement of the stack back towards the VAB.
‘Based on a conversation about Tuesday afternoon’s weather, what we’ve decided to do is try and get off the pad earlier. We’d like to get off the pad tomorrow morning if at all possible.’

The Cat 1 hurricane is now predicted to head right over the Cape, hopefully causing little damage, as that also will have to be evaluated for any potential rollback to the launch pad for an attempt in the second week of September.

‘We would stay in there as the storm passes, check the center to make sure there is no damage, before clearing the vehicle and the launch pad to take Atlantis back out to the pad – which might take a couple of days,’ added Leinbach.
‘The thing to remember is once we get back out to the launch pad, we’re eight days from a T-0.’

Talks are on-going with the Russians at Roskosmos to work on a potential plan that would see the Soyuz launch window being postponed, with sources monitoring a ‘potentially positive outcome.’

That – if all goes well with the aforementioned turnaround of Atlantis after the hurricane, could give Atlantis a window of up to September 13 – as per lighting restrictions.

More to follow shortly. NASA Press Conference at 10am Local (3pm UK).

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