Last Second Shuttle Launch Abort

t-minus one minute 30 seconds away from a sunrise liftoff er 40 heads up at all – Kampai one we were ready to go and I've been there just six months before so I knew what was coming up coming up where I go for autosequence start ten nine eight seven six seconds prior to liftoff the main engines ignite on the shuttle and they come up to full thrust during a six second run up and then the computers check everything Vampir for daily zero they like two solid rocket motors and that's a commit to flying you're gonna go somewhere and you hope it's orbit I was mentally counting down is 5 4 3 2 1 in my head 3 2 and you're waiting bracing yourself mentally and physically for the big kick at liftoff 1 and I've made it and cut off so we're looking at that hatch window you see the gantry swaying back and forth outside well that's odd and then you realize oh yeah we're going back and forth all of your flight plan training for what you're gonna do in orbit is out the window because now you might have to scramble out of the orbiter in just a few seconds to save your life when the engines started up the sensors saw something I didn't like the first thing everybody wants to know is what was the failure the question is how long will the hole be and that depends on the failure mechanism you don't know whether down there's a fire or an explosion that's about to take place or whether it's already climbing up the sides of a shuttle stack you're worried about the fact that there's 500,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in the fuel tank just a few feet away from where you're sitting you've got the solid rocket motors of one of those ignites you know it's over

24 Replies to “Last Second Shuttle Launch Abort”

  1. well that was a waste of $3 Billion in fuel and ten hours to get the shuttle to the pad. Not to mention you didn't finish the story. the problem is I thought that once the engines were started they had no choice but to go? can they just shut them off?

  2. The real reason behind the abort was later shown in the documentary

    The astronauts were waiting for the pizza guy

  3. its a long one but i know a lot of you want to know why

    Liftoff of STS-68 was scheduled for 6:54 a.m. EDT. After strapping in and checking their equipment, Jones and fellow astronaut Jeff Wisoff, seated on Endeavour’s middeck, killed a little time by playing rock, scissors, paper. As the countdown resumed ticking from the T-9 minute hold, the astronauts had been heartened to learn that Range Operations had given them a green light to go. Weather was good, as were the systems and payloads aboard the orbiter herself. Launch Director Bob Sieck wished the crew good luck, to which Endeavour’s commander, Mike Baker, responded with a heartfelt thanks for getting them ready to fly this important “Mission to Planet Earth.” A few minutes later, Pilot Terry Wilcutt reached over and activated the ship’s Auxiliary Power Units. “Here comes the vibration of the vehicle,” Jones wrote in his memoir, Skywalking, “flight control surfaces moving, engines are cycling now with the hydraulics.”

    Endeavour was primed and ready to go—or so it seemed.

    “Go for Autosequence Start. Endeavour’s on-board computers now have primary control of all the vehicle’s critical functions … ”

    As the countdown ticked to the all-important T-31 seconds, control of the final stages was handed off from the Launch Control Center to Endeavour’s General Purpose Computers. It was they, and they alone, which would monitor hundreds of separate sensors and execute decisions as to whether the mission would fly today. The disembodied voice of the launch announcer echoed from loudspeakers, crisply acknowledging the seconds as they worked their way backwards toward the ignition of the three main engines, the ignition of the twin Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs), and a date with a high-inclination orbit to radar-map the Home Planet for the next 10 days or so.

    “12, 11, 10, nine, eight, seven … ”

    At 10 seconds, the darkness was punctuated by the bright cascade of sparks from the swirling hydrogen burn igniters, as they fired off to disperse unburnt gas in the vicinity of the main engine nozzles.

    “We have a Go for main engine start … ”

    With a familiar rumble and a sheet of translucent orange flame, Endeavour’s three main engines thundered to life. From the roof of the Launch Control Center, several miles away, Jones’ wife, Liz, together with their two children, the other crew families, and a handful of astronaut escorts braced themselves for the upcoming crescendo of sound and vibration. “In the growing light of dawn,” Jones recalled in Skywalking, “she saw the gout of orange exhaust flare beneath the orbiter and saw the steam billow from the flame trench as the engines spooled up to full power.”

    “We have three main engines running … ”

    All seemed normal. Then, with shocking abruptness, something went wrong.

    “Three, two, one … and … we have main engine cutoff. GLS safing is in progress.”

    As the Ground Launch Sequencer automatically kicked in to “safe” the vehicle, the three blazing engine bells suddenly fell dark and silent. For the third time in less than 18 months (and only the fifth occasion in the shuttle’s operational history), a Redundant Set Launch Sequencer (RSLS) abort had been called, after engine start, producing a hazardous on-the-pad shutdown. However, whereas previous aborts had occurred at around T-3 seconds, STS-68 had gotten down to a mere 1.9 seconds ahead of liftoff. Almost immediately, cooling water was sprayed onto the hot engines and the attention of everyone in the Launch Control Center was riveted upon the Main Propulsion System (MPS) fire detectors; if any of them had tripped, the abort carried the prospects of turning into a bad day, for a invisible hydrogen fire at the base of the main engines could easily spread across the pad and trigger an explosion. And that would demand a “Mode One Egress”: a hairy evacuation of the astronauts from the orbiter to ride slidewire baskets to safety.

    “We have a cutoff of the main engines. The countdown clock has stopped.”

    In the seconds which followed, an urgent flurry of acronym-laden communications passed between engineers, controllers, and managers in the Launch Control Center, and with the astronauts themselves aboard Endeavour.“We have main engine cutoff … RSLS safing is in progress … All three main engines are in post-shutdown standby … GLS is Go for orbiter APU shutdown … ”

    The gathered spectators at the Cape watched in horror and alarm as the famous countdown clock starkly read T-00:00:00, yet no shuttle ascended into the heavens and only a large smudge of grey cloud rose ominously above Pad 39A. Then came the call which brought a measure of calm to the proceedings: “No MPS fire detectors tripped.” There was no evidence of fire on the pad, meaning a “Mode One Egress” of the vehicle would probably be unneeded. The white room was moved back into position alongside Endeavour’s crew access hatch, to facilitate the departure of Baker and his men. Pilot Terry Wilcutt shut down the three APUs. Through Endeavour’s tiny side hatch window, Tom Jones could clearly see the Pad 39A gantry visibly swaying backwards and forwards; the vehicle was still rocking from the “twang” effect induced by the ignition of her main engines.
    Had the engine shutdown been triggered a couple of seconds later—after SRB ignition—it would have placed the crew in an unenviable situation of having to perform the shuttle program’s first Return to Launch Site (RTLS) abort, riding the boosters for two minutes until their expiry, then separating from them and the External Tank to perform an emergency landing, back at the Kennedy Space Center. “The RTLS is a daunting prospect for the crew,” wrote Tom Jones. “We would have to fly the orbiter and attached ET through half an outside loop, then ride backward through our exhaust plume at Mach 5. Ditching the empty tank, we would then try to make it back to the Kennedy runway. No shuttle crew had ever flown such an emergency approach. None wanted to be the first to try.”

    Since the Mission Management Team looked upon an RSLS in the same manner as an actual launch, the abort demanded a complete re-inspection of all main engines in the VAB engine shop and would produce a delay of approximately six weeks. Meanwhile, Dan Bursch, sitting in the flight engineer’s seat behind Commander Mike Baker and Pilot Terry Wilcutt, was even more unlucky, having also sat through the STS-51 pad abort, almost exactly a year earlier. Now, his STS-68 crewmates teased him without mercy and, according to Jones, “he lamented that no one would bother coming to another of his launch attempts.” In fact, Bursch would gain an unenviable reputation as the only astronaut to sit through two RSLS aborts in his career. In the hours and days which followed, the attention of technicians focused upon a problem with the No. 3 main engine’s High Pressure Oxidizer Turbine. One of its sensors detected a dangerously high discharge temperature, which exceeded the rules of the Launch Commit Criteria, and Endeavour’s computers halted the countdown after the Engine Start Command had been issued.

    For the astronauts, it seemed their best bet of getting off the ground on 30 September was to convince Endeavour that the unlucky Dan Bursch was not aboard. As a result, when the STS-68 crew arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, a couple of days before launch, Bursch ensured that he climbed out of his T-38 jet in an appropriate “Groucho Marx” disguise. Things did not seem to be going well, for all of them, save Jeff Wisoff, had colds. In spite of the jinxed nature of their flight, 30 September turned out to be charmed, and Endeavour rose perfectly at 7:16 a.m. EDT, right on the opening of the 2.5-hour launch window. It was the last RSLS on the pad, with significant upgrades planned for the main engines in the following years … but the brutal truth was that the shuttle could never be operational or routine and would never be truly safe. Article by Ben Evans from

  4. 3, 2, 1,….ABORT THE STORY! No good, that's like starting to read an exciting book then finding out most of the pages are blank! 🐂💨

  5. Over-dramatized nonsense. What a great way to waste 3 minutes of my life without learning anything. It was a pad abort that was over and the vehicle safe before anyone really knew what happened. I cannot imagine the tension or terror experienced by Mr. Jones, or any astronaut, during a launch or pad abort. That said, constantly editing back and forth between the NASA vault of launch footage and your interviewee is distracting at best. When the series is titled: "Secret Space Escapes" I could also use adjectives like: sensationalist or misleading. Everyone with a television or newspaper subscription knew what happened within days, if not hours, of the incident. I hope the full episode was more 'light' than 'heat', this was sure the opposite.

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