Fuel tank issues force shuttle delay until 2008

by Kristen Dhalgren
NBC News

Another disappointment for NASA.

The space shuttle Atlantis is still sitting on the launch pad after another failure in one of the fuel tank sensors.

Sunday's postponement means NASA won't try to launch again until next month.

As NASA began to fill Atlantis' external fuel tank, it appeared the two faulty sensors that forced cancellation of Thursday's launch had corrected themselves.

But then another failure forcing NASA to scrub another launch.
 
And this time, the space agency announced it would not try again until at least January.

In the past, NASA might have flown with a faulty sensor, but they've seen this issue before and the problem is they don't know what causes the failures.

NASA Assistant Administrator, Bill Gerstenmaier said, "So if we can determine what this problem is we can remove it and then it doesn't show up at some inopportune time when we're trying to fly and maybe we don't have as much schedule margin between the individual flights. So this can be a huge advantage to us to get it understood and move forward."

The engine cut-off or "eco" sensors play a vital back-up role in shutting down the main engines.

A malfunction could lead to catastrophe.

So teams are already trying to trouble shoot the problem hoping to find the cause and correct it without taking Atlantis off the launch pad.

"In the big scheme of things its a slight disappointment, but still from an overall standpoint it's not a big deal," said Gerstenmaier.

But with a tight construction schedule, and much work to do before the shuttle program ends it seems there is a lot riding on Atlantis getting off the ground soon.