Atlantis remains grounded - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Atlantis remains grounded

It's another no go for the Space Shuttle Atlantis. NASA delayed the launch until next year. Once again, a fuel gauge failed on the external tank.

It's a pesky problem that's haunted the space agency for the past two years. Now, NASA engineers are trying to figure out how to fix the problem once and for all.

On Sunday, everything appeared to be on track as the launch team was filling the big orange eternal tank with hydrogen - all four sensors were working.

Doug Lyons, launch director, says, "Two or three minutes later, sensor number three failed."

It's the same problem that forced engineers to scrub Thursday's launch, but that time, two of the sensors read wrong and then a third went down. They eventually corrected themselves.

NASA had made it clear if any of the four malfunctioned Sunday, they'd halt the countdown and the mission to the International Space Station would be delayed.

Leroy Cain, NASA, says, "We would rather have launched today [Sunday], obviously."

Now, the earliest they will try to launch is January 2.

Engineers hope to solve the problem out on the pad, but, if they can't, they'll be forced to roll it back to the vehicle assembly building and really start taking things apart.

"We're going to get some good data, and we're determined to get to the bottom of this"

Delays, like this, cause even more headaches for NASA. The space agency is under pressure to complete the International Space Station by the year 2010. That's also the same year the Bush Administration has said the shuttle program must come to an end.

Bill Harwood, CBS News space consultant, says, "It shows that with a system as complicated as this, things can happen, and, I think, managing this program all the way through 2010 will be very difficult if anything untoward comes up."

It's also another in a series of disappointing delays for the European Space Agency. Its $2 billion Columbus lab is sitting in the shuttle's belly ready to be attached to the International Space Station.

The European program manager admits he wants to fly but fly safely. NASA hopes to make that wish come true in just a few weeks.

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