Washington (AFP) Jul 27, 2007
A computer due to be installed on the US space shuttle Endeavour for an August mission was found sabotaged, NASA said on Thursday, the latest in a string of shocks concerning the US space agency.
"One of our subcontractors noticed that a network box for the shuttle had appeared to be tampered with," NASA spokeswoman Katherine Trinidad told AFP. "It is intentional damage to hardware."
Endeavour is due to be launched on August 7 with seven crew members on board from the NASA base at Cape Canaveral in Florida, for a mission to continue construction of the International Space Station, a manned orbiting laboratory.
The workers who discovered the damage to the computer equipment intended for Endeavour notified NASA "several days ago," Trinidad said. "There is an ongoing investigation."
Safety is a major concern in US shuttle missions after damage sustained by the Columbia craft on launching caused it to break up on re-entry in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board.
"The tampering occurred at a subcontractor's facility and not while the unit was at the Kennedy Space Center," NASA's Cape Canaveral base, Trinidad said of the damage to the Endeavour equipment.
She gave no details of who the subcontractors were nor exactly where the damage was.
"What we are trying to do now is repair that unit and try and fly it when possible."
The shuttle Atlantis successfully completed a mission to the station in June, a welcome bit of good news for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) after several embarrassing incidents in recent months.
In February astronaut Lisa Nowak, a former crew member on the shuttle Discovery, was arrested, accused of a bizarre attempt to kidnap a love rival. NASA fired her in March.
Then in April, a NASA contractor Bill Phillips managed to sneak a revolver past security at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and barricaded himself inside a building at the sprawling campus, police said.
He duct-taped a female co-worker to a chair and shot a male colleague dead before turning the gun on himself.
Also on Thursday, the trade magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology citing an internal NASA panel said that astronauts had been allowed to fly spacecraft while drunk. A NASA spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
The agency also faced political bother in May when NASA chief Michael Griffin drew fire for comments on the hot topic of harmful climate change. He publicly questioned the need to tackle global warming.
The successful Atlantis mission, meanwhile, was initially delayed by three months because the shuttle's external fuel tank was damaged during a freak hail storm as it stood on its launch pad.
The delay forced NASA to cut the number of planned shuttle flights this year from five to four.
On the August mission, astronauts are to deliver a giant truss to be attached to the ISS, along with an external stowage platform and a Spacehab module -- a pressurized cargo carrier.
Astronauts flew while dangerously drunk: report
The panel also reported "heavy use of alcohol" within the standard 12-hour "bottle to throttle" abstinence rule applied to NASA flight-crew members, Aviation Week & Space Technology said.
A NASA spokesman was not immediately available for comment, but NASA has scheduled a press conference detailing the panel findings for Friday afternoon.
In anticipation of the report's formal release, one US lawmaker was primed to seek answers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
"If the reports of drunken astronauts being allowed to fly prove to be true, I think the agency will have a lot of explaining to do," said Bart Gordon, chairman of the House of Representatives' science and technology committee.
"That's not the 'right stuff' as far as I'm concerned," he said, alluding to a 1983 film about early NASA crews, "The Right Stuff."
The internal NASA panel was set up to review astronaut health after astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested and charged with trying to kidnap a woman who was dating another astronaut.
The panel found that drunk astronauts were allowed to fly on "at least two occasions," the magazine reported, without saying on which missions the incidents took place.
It did not specifically discuss Nowak.
NASA is also reviewing its intake and on-going psychological screening for astronaut candidates and astronauts.
nasa status report
"On behalf of all the people that work on Endeavour, both here and really across the country, it's a great, great feeling to have Endeavour back on the pad," said Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach. "We're looking forward to a great launch."
The Shuttle Mission Management Team conducts the review two weeks prior to each space shuttle mission. The group thoroughly evaluates all activities and elements necessary for the safe and successful performance of shuttle mission operations - from the prelaunch phase through post-landing - including the readiness of the vehicle, flight crew and payloads.
The 22nd flight to the International Space Station, STS-118 will be the first flight for Endeavour since 2002, and the first mission for Mission Specialist Barbara Morgan, the teacher-turned-astronaut whose association with NASA began more than 20 years ago.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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External Tank ET-120 Headed to Kennedy Space Center
Cape Canaveral FL (SPX) Jul 26, 2007
Space shuttle external tank ET-120 is en route to the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., after being loaded onto an enclosed barge July 24 for shipment from NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. The tank is being towed by a tug during the approximately 850-mile journey and is expected to arrive at the Kennedy Center July 29. ET-120 is slated to fly on the STS-120 mission, targeted for October 2007.
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