Atlantis rolls back, then forward againI make no secret of my appreciation for what NASA do. Some people attack them for pushing the envelope of discovery way beyond practical human ability whilst we still don't know everything about our own planet. Well, apparently NASA don't know everything about their own projects: specifically the $2b space shuttle orbiters.

Marred this month by exteme bad luck on counts of badly designed antenna bolts the weekend before the planned August launch, a tropical storm, a lightning strike, a partial rollback to hangar and now electrical failures just hours from T minus zero, one wonders how NASA could ever have claimed to be ready for this mission.

I don't know if it's just that the media eyes are on the project in the run-up to launch but there do seem to be an alarming number of repairs that take place on the orbiters even two days before launch.

Meanwhile, with this electrical issue, NASA says that when the mission managers switched the fuel cells on, one malfunction caused a voltage spike in the other two. For a launch all three must be working. Apparently "the Shuttle could launch without the problem being fixed, but that engineers wanted to understand it properly."

And yes, they mean exactly that. The engineers do not understand the problem.

Worse than that:

Adding to an already complicated situation is the fact that NASA doesn't know exactly how the fuel cell works, ABC reports.

"The vendor sold us the thing [in 1976] and didn't exactly tell us how it works, amazing as that might be," Hale said.

Even I'm starting to lose my confidence in that particular organisation. It sounds like they've stolen shuttle parts from alien technology and not even bothered reverse-engineering it. Oh, there's a conspiracy theory waiting to happen.. I wonder if "the vendor" happened to be based in Tenerife in 1976…