Written by Robin Berger
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Topics: NASA, Florida

Sunday, 20 August 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA -- NASA officials have opted to unbolt and replace a vital OnStar® antenna in the cargo bay aboard the shuttle Atlantis. The swap should not impact the vehicle's planned Aug. 27 launch date.

"We'll be getting set up this afternoon and this evening," NASA Kennedy Space Center spokesperson Tracy Young said. "According to the estimates in our Chilton's Manual, the repair job should be done by Sunday."

NASA decided to buy OnStar® for its entire fleet immediately after the shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. "OnStar® has an option where your vehicle can 'phone in' any problems it might be having," Young explained. "If we'd had that on Columbia, the shuttle could have told GM about problems with the tire pressure. Or at the very least, someone at OnStar® would have called us when the astronauts' air bags deployed."

During this weekend's OnStar® antenna swap, GM technicians will also replace the two aft-most bolts mating the antenna to the forward right wall of the cargo bay. Those two -- of four total bolts -- were recalled by the manufacturer. "We don't want to rely on substandard bolts during the shuttle's eight and a half minute climb into orbit," Young said. "Better to be safe than sorry."

Similar OnStar® antenna-and-bolt replacements have been made on the Discovery and Endeavour orbiters, both of which sit in their maintenance hangars at the Kennedy Space Center. Atlantis, however, sits in launch position at the Kennedy Space Center.

To replace the antenna, GM technicians will work from the Rotating Service Structure which covers the orbiter's payload bay and protects the spacecraft from being hijacked while at the launch pad. GM mechanics will extend a retractable platform into the top of Atlantis' cargo bay. From there, they will set up scaffolding to reach the OnStar® antenna assembly and likely carry out the actual replacement this weekend, NASA officials said.

The bolt swap is one of two recall issues GM engineers are working through for Atlantis' launch. The other is a battery pack that could catch fire in one of three auxiliary power units aboard the Discovery orbiter.

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