NASA engineers have drawn up a plan to stow a kinked radiator hose aboard the shuttle Atlantis as the agency gears up for a Thursday launch toward the International Space Station (ISS).
Wielding a V-shaped pole, a shuttle technician will gently prod the bent hose back into a compartment inside Atlantis' payload bay, said NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
"In tests, it went really well," Beutel told SPACE.com, adding that the fix is not expected to impact Atlantis' planned Feb. 7 launch. "They've been practicing this since Wednesday."
Shuttle workers will perform the repair on Sunday, with the technician climbing inside Atlantis' 60-foot (18-meter) payload bay at the start, then squeezing out of the cargo hold before its shell-like doors are closed for launch. The shuttle's payload bay doors will be closed about 12 hours earlier than planned to allow extra cushion should the repair run long, Beutel said.
Commanded by veteran shuttle flyer Stephen Frick, Atlantis' STS-122 mission to the ISS has been delayed since early December due to glitches with fuel tank level sensors that have since been resolved. The shuttle is scheduled to launch Thursday at 2:45 p.m. EST (1945 GMT) on an 11-day flight to ferry a new crewmember and the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory to the orbiting space station.
Engineers discovered the kinked Freon hose, which is bent the wrong way, late Tuesday after finding a similar glitch on Atlantis' sister ship Discovery. The hose is part of the shuttle's cooling system and engineers were initially concerned that it might develop a leak once in space.
Atlantis, however, has a backup cooling system that could be used should any leak occur, mission managers said late Wednesday. But aside from being misaligned, the radiator hose is currently undamaged and leak-free, they added.
Frick and his crewmates are currently in quarantine at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to avoid catching any last-minute illnesses. They are scheduled to arrive at the agency's KSC spaceport on Monday morning for final countdown preparations.
"Right now, there is no effect to the overall timeline," Beutel said of the hose repair.