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Shuttle Rocket Test-Fired as Snow Slows Countdown

December 24, 1987|Associated Press

BRIGHAM CITY, Utah — Engineers successfully test-fired a redesigned space shuttle booster rocket Wednesday, passing another critical milestone in America's return to manned space flight.

The two-minute test, after a 90-minute countdown delay caused by snow, sent light brown smoke billowing hundreds of feet above and behind the horizontally positioned rocket as it burned 1.1 million pounds of solid propellent.

"The time was right, and the plume was good. That looked like it was dead-on," said Carver Kennedy, vice president for space services for Morton Thiokol Inc., the builder of the rocket.

The full-scale test was the second of four required by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration before shuttle flights can be resumed in June. The third test is set for sometime in March and the fourth in April.

"Two down and two to go. We're getting very bullish on a June launch," said J. R. Thompson, director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Scheduled Test Scrubbed

The test was originally scheduled for last Saturday but was scrubbed because of problems with ground-support circuitry.

The firing Wednesday tested the efficiency of new rocket joint heaters as wind-chill temperatures fell to an estimated 25 degrees below zero. Without the wind, the temperature was 22 degrees above zero.

Thompson said he welcomed the extreme cold as an "opportunity to really test our design." He said engineers would be unable to say how the booster withstood the test until they inspected it and analyzed their data.

Snow Halts Countdown

Morton Thiokol executives halted the countdown at noon, one hour before the scheduled 1 p.m. test, because snow was falling at the test bay. The countdown was resumed at 1:30 p.m. and the rocket was fired an hour later. Regulations prohibit a test if rain or snow is expected within three hours after a firing because either can obscure test results.

A presidential commission found that cold pre-launching weather may have contributed to the failure of O-rings sealing a joint on one of the space shuttle Challenger's two boosters. The joint vented super-hot gases on Jan. 28, 1986, which ignited an external fuel tank and caused an explosion that destroyed the shuttle and killed its seven crew members.

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