CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA managers yesterday unanimously picked Aug. 27 for the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis on a mission to resume construction of the international space station -- but two precariously-attached bolts securing a crucial antenna could delay those plans.
Engineers suspect that the bolts are too short on the KU-band antenna, which transmits images and other essential data between the space shuttle and Mission Control. They want to make sure the bolts are secure enough so that the antenna doesn't come off during a launch, which could cause catastrophic damage.
``We're not going to fly if we think there's a possibility the antenna will come off," said Michael Griffin, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Atlantis has flown with those bolts without trouble since they were installed two decades ago. The problem was discovered last week, after Atlantis was rolled to the launch pad, when a review of paperwork on bolts on NASA's space shuttles was ordered because a related problem was found in Discovery.
NASA officials probably won't decide until this weekend whether to leave the bolts in place. Technicians would have to build scaffolding on top of a platform six stories off the ground in order to change the bolts with the shuttle on the launch pad. The procedure probably would take NASA the two spare days it has in the schedule.
``Imagine operating on a surfboard that is tied down at one end, sticking out over a six-story balcony," said Wayne Hale, shuttle program manager.