CAPE CANAVERAL — The launch of the space shuttle Columbia was postponed today until after Christmas due to a technical problem that occurred 14 seconds before lift-off. The crew was left in the spacecraft forlornly wearing reindeer antlers.
"We have an unexpected shutdown," reported launch control commentator Jim Ball as the countdown clock halted suddenly, stopped by a computer that detected a problem with a booster rocket steering system.
Bob Sieck, director of shuttle operations, rescheduled the launch for Jan. 4. He said it would take at least until Christmas to replace a defective hydraulic power unit. He added launch team members had been promised time off between Christmas and New Year's "and they deserve it."
Columbia's seven-man crew, including Rep. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Franklin Chang-Diaz, a Costa Rican-born Hispanic American, sat in the shuttle's cabin atop half a million gallons of volatile fuel, monitoring gauges to make sure all systems were safe.