NASA's failure to fix Atlantis' hydrogen leak bumped another shuttle flight into 1991. A team of NASA experts, meanwhile, began looking into the $1.5 billion Hubble space telescope's woes.
But the space agency also got a bit of good news Wednesday: A thrice-delayed launch of an unmanned Atlas rocket went off without a flaw. (Story on A1.)"It's good to have something positive happen," NASA spokesman Jim Cast said. "It's a definite boost to NASA morale."
Earlier in the day, a last-ditch effort to fix Atlantis at the launch pad failed. Atlantis became the second shuttle in two months to be sent back to the hangar for repair of a hydrogen leak.
The leak reappeared when liquid hydrogen was pumped into Atlantis' external tank. It was the third such test of Atlantis, but the agency still was unable to pinpoint the leak.
NASA postponed the shuttle's secret Pentagon flight from this month to November.
Columbia, the first leaky shuttle rolled back from the launch pad, now will be next to fly. Its astronomy mission, originally scheduled for May, is set for September.
"We have every reason to believe that we have no more problems ahead of us on Columbia," said William Lenoir, head of NASA's space flight program.
The space agency has replaced Columbia's leaky plumbing. Its leak was believed to be larger than the one plaguing Atlantis and in a different place.
Atlantis' delay means NASA must bump another flight into 1991. A second Atlantis mission set for this year, with the Gamma Ray Observatory, originally was scheduled for November and now probably will be early next year.
The shuttle developments came as a space agency team began investigating the cause of NASA's highest-profile problem: the flawed mirror on the $1.5 billion Hubble Space Telescope that is sending back blurry images.
The seven-member team, led by Lew Allen, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, took testimony in secret Wednesday at the plant where the mirror was made, Hughes-Danbury Optical Systems Inc. of Danbury, Conn.