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SLUG: 2-314380 Shuttle Repairs (L-O)









INTRO: The U-S space agency NASA is conducting an investigation into the failure of inspections over the years to find that a critical gear in a shuttle tail rudder was improperly installed when the orbiters were built in the 1970s. As V-O-A's David McAlary reports from Washington, the part is being replaced, but one NASA official says the mistake could have been catastrophic to a shuttle crew.

TEXT: Technicians for a NASA hardware supplier discovered the problem in a gear in the tail flap of the shuttle "Discovery." It and the other two remaining orbiters are being painstakingly prepared for a return to flight next year after the loss of "Columbia" and its seven member crew last year.

The gear is in one of four motors, or actuators, that move Discovery's tail rudder back and forth to help steer it during landing and brake its speed.

When NASA engineers discovered corrosion and cracks in the quarter century-old actuators, it sent them back to the company that built them. Technicians there unexpectedly found that the gear had been mounted in the wrong position during its original assembly. This prevented it from meshing properly with surrounding gears.

Furthermore, NASA later found that a gear in a replacement tail flap motor was also wrongly mounted.


Yes, I'm surprised. It's a process escape that shouldn't have happened.

/// END ACT ///

This is the manager of the U-S shuttle program, William Parsons. He says the improperly installed gear was in a rudder actuator that was in the least stressful position in the shuttle's tail flap, which first operates when the vehicle is traveling at 10 times the speed of sound. But he points out that had the actuator been located where the stresses on it were greater, it could not have handled the load and would have caused a disaster.

/// 2nd PARSONS ACT ///

If one of these actuators were to fail, it would jam in a position. If it jammed open or jammed closed, it would be catastrophic. The loss of one of those rudder speed brake actuators would be loss of vehicle, loss of crew.

/// END ACT ///

The tail rudder gears were not part of the reason the shuttle Columbia disintegrated last year and the wrongly positioned one in Discovery apparently never presented a problem during its more than 30 missions. But Mr. Parsons says NASA has nevertheless begun a probe to determine why the improper installation was never discovered.

The independent flight safety experts who investigated the Columbia accident said NASA had a poor safety record and did not conduct enough tests on equipment between flights. Mr. Parsons says the U-S space agency is doing more tests than ever now.

/// REST OPT ///

/// 3rd PARSONS ACT ///

This is not a new approach. This is something NASA has always done, but as we have learned more about this vehicle, we have installed a lot more testing into the program, and so we're doing as much testing as we possibly can.

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Parsons says the replacement of all of the tail rudder motors in the shuttles Discovery and Atlantis will not delay their return to flight, now set for about one year from now. This is a delay from the original target of September or October of this year as NASA works to comply with a set of flight safety recommendations made by the Columbia accident investigators. (SIGNED)


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