A fuel gauge that mistakenly read empty instead of full forced NASA to call off Wednesday’s launch of Discovery on the first shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster 2 1/2 years ago. The space agency’s chief said the mission is off until at least Monday.
The decision to scrub the launch came with less than 2 1/2 hours to go, while the seven astronauts were boarding the spacecraft for their journey to the international space station. Up until then, rain and thunder over the launch site appeared to be the only potential obstacle to an on-time liftoff.
The problem involved one of the external fuel tank’s four engine cutoff sensors, which are responsible for making sure the spacecraft’s main engines shut down at the right moment during the ascent. A launch could end in tragedy if faulty sensors caused the engines to cut out too early or too late.