KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — A blast from two small explosive charges Thursday freed a space shuttle rocket held on a launch platform for two weeks by a metal nut that would not budge.
A muffled sound and a puff of smoke marked the nut's destruction in a shuttle assembly building where the 27-foot rocket segment is mounted on a mobile launch pad, officials said. The charges were set off by a computer signal from the shuttle launch control center.
Officials thought at first that only one of the devices had been detonated, but ordnance experts who examined the shattered nut reported both had been blown.
"They did what they were supposed to do," NASA spokeswoman Lisa Malone said. She said the exercise freed the rocket segment, which will be removed from the platform next week.
Lock on Booster Rockets
The nut, about five inches in diameter and six inches tall, is one of eight that fit on top of 28-inch-long bolts that lock a shuttle's two solid fuel booster rockets on the mobile launch pad. At liftoff, the two explosives in the nut are triggered and the spaceship is released to fly.
The rocket involved Thursday and its twin, each with four solid fuel segments, were attached earlier this year to the shuttle Atlantis for launch pad tests.
Atlantis was separated from the rockets several weeks ago, and technicians last month began disassembling the two boosters.