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Glitch Grounds Shuttle, Strands 'Reindeer' Crew

December 19, 1985|From Times Wire Services

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.

Felt Antlers

They were wearing felt reindeer antlers on their helmets that had been given them by ground crewmen dressed as Santas.

With the vehicle declared safe, they left the cockpit half an hour after the abort and returned to their crew quarters.

Mission commander Robert Gibson said the crew was startled when the count stopped.

"The crew discipline was very good," he said. "Obviously we are disappointed."

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