Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aborted Launch Averts Disaster Shuttle Is Shut Down Instant before Liftoff

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Aborted Launch Averts Disaster Shuttle Is Shut Down Instant before Liftoff

Article excerpt

The crew braced for launch. The main engines ignited. The countdown clock ticked to 00:00:00. A cloud of vapor and exhaust rose. Space shuttle Endeavour strained at its hold-down clamps.

And then - a heart-stopping shutdown at the most hazardous moment of a shuttle mission.

Endeavour and its six astronauts flirted with catastrophe Thursday, coming within seconds of a flawed launch and a variety of disasters.

Computers halted the launch at the last possible instant after an engine failed.

Although rattled, the crew was uninjured. Never before had a countdown clock reached zero and a shuttle not been launched.

"We were quite obviously very concerned," said Deidra Baker, wife of the shuttle's commander, Michael Baker. "I don't think anybody's happier than the families that the safety systems worked and everybody's OK."

The astronauts were protected by a rapid sequence of emergency procedures, including a deluge of 300,000 gallons of water sprayed on the shuttle by fire-protection systems.

Clad in iridescent flight suits, still wearing their helmets, the astronauts left the shuttle about an hour after the aborted launching. They appeared sweaty, disappointed, relieved.

Baker later described the harrowing experience, one that began with red lights flashing on the control panel and the shuttle swaying six feet from side to side and the engines shutting down.

"You get a lot of rumble and a little bit of vibration and then you're ready for that big kick of the SRBs (solid rocket boosters), and it just doesn't happen," Baker said.

He added dryly that the final countdown "seemed longer than usual."

Besides Baker, 40, others aboard Endeavour were pilot Terrence Wilcutt, 45, and mission specialists Daniel Bursch, 37, Thomas Jones, 39, Steven Smith, 35, and Peter Wisoff, 36. All are married except Wisoff. Among them, they have eight children.

Although NASA's estimates varied, it appeared that the shutdown came within 1.9 seconds of liftoff and maybe within 40 milliseconds. …

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