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NASA ENGINEERS FOCUSING ON A CRITICAL TEFLON SEAL

SHARE NASA ENGINEERS FOCUSING ON A CRITICAL TEFLON SEAL

More tests are needed to pinpoint the source of an elusive hydrogen fuel leak that grounded the shuttle Columbia, but engineers are focusing on a critical Teflon seal as one possible culprit, officials say.

William Lenoir, NASA's associate administrator for space flight, said at a Washington news conference Monday that nothing has been ruled out and that until the problem is fully characterized and corrected, the shuttle fleet will remain grounded.The problem involves Columbia's 17-inch-wide "disconnect" fitting, the massive assembly that connects fuel lines from the ship's external fuel tank to matching pipes in the belly of the orbiter.

In yet another blow to the nation's beleaguered space agency, a study has found the proposed space station may require too many risky spacewalks for routine maintenance, a published report said.

The proposed $30 billion space station Freedom would require six spacewalks each week for routine

repairs, raising questions about the station's practicality, according to Monday's edition of the weekly publication, Space News.

The estimate is in a draft copy of a report prepared for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by astronaut William Fisher and robotics expert Charles Price at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Space News said.

Space News reports "several NASA officials" told the newspaper a draft copy of the final report concluded the station would require an estimated 3,800 hours of spacewalks each year, or about six each week.

"Each spacewalk requires six hours to complete. There will be eight crew members at the station, and two would have to spend most of their working hours on space walks doing maintenance chores," the newspaper stated.