Shuttle Atlantis is supposed to lift off with the European Space Agency's Columbus lab next week after a two-month delay, but a new problem could force yet another postponement, mission managers said Wednesday.
An inspection on the previous day uncovered a bent radiator hose in the shuttle's payload bay, shuttle program manager Wayne Hale told reporters. The hose works as is and does not leak Freon, but some engineers fear it could break from the vibrations during liftoff.
Hale said his team will review the problem again Saturday, and at least for the time being, preparations will proceed toward a Feb. 7 launch.
Discovery had a similarly bent radiator hose during two flights, without any leakage, Hale said. The braided metal hose is supposed to retract into a box with rollers when the payload bay doors are closed, "and clearly something is not lining up in that box properly," he said.
NASA may decide to fly Atlantis without any repairs or could try to straighten the hose, Hale said. Replacing the hose could lead to a launch delay.
"If it's not safe to fly, we won't fly it," Hale told reporters.
Each space shuttle is equipped with two Freon coolant loops to dispel the heat generated by on-board electronics.
As for the repairs to Atlantis' fuel tank since December's failed launch attempts, Hale said he is confident a newly soldered connector will resolve NASA's gauge problems once and for all.