Shuttle Grounded Hours Before Lift Off

After dodging big thunderstorms in Florida, a small fuel tank sensor ended up grounding space shuttle Discovery today, just hours before it was scheduled to lift of from Johnson Space Center.

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Space Shuttle Program Deputy Manager Wayne Hale summed up the mood at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a mood that carried over here to the JSC campus. One of four liquid hydrogen sensors on the shuttle's new external tank gave controllers false readings about two hours before the scheduled launch.

Hale says there was no question that the fuel sensor problem was big enough to delay the launch, which would have been the first shuttle mission since the Columbia tragedy two and a half years ago.

Officials say these same sensors have acted up in pre-flight tank tests, but engineers haven't been able to find anything wrong with the actual sensors or anything connected to them. Hale says the earliest Discovery can now launch would be this weekend.

Hale says it's possible shuttle astronauts could return here to Houston, a scenario that would likely mean Discovery wouldn't launch until September. Local space analyst and former NASA employee Jim Oberg says this wasn't a small problem.

Oberg says NASA ought to be proud that it caught the problem before launch and that it appears the space agency has changed its safety culture since the Colombia tragedy.

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