We're all familiar with launch chicken. The payload tries to out wait the launcher to declare a schedule slip. Usually the less experienced program manager blinks first. Inevitably, someone always blinks.
Shuttle Viceroy Wayne Hale must have glass eyes. Watch him on TV. He's stopped blinking. But he can't hold out forever. In fact, we think he'll be tearing up pretty soon now.
The shuttle folks have decided that they are still unable to set a launch date for Atlantis and the European Columbus ISS module. For a program bent on completion by 2010 (despite Sen Nelson's reminders that there is no such deadline and the schedule pressure is entirely the making of the Emperor) this lack of even a target launch date is highly unusual. Previously, dates have at least been declared as goals to keep the team marching forward. Why has Viceroy Hale adopted such an open-ended posture now?
We think the ECO sensor problem is now being used as an excuse and shield for the much more difficult issues ISS is facing but for which there are still no answers. The SARJ and the Beta joint have crippled the station, power-wise, to the point where Columbus can only get keep-alive power once it is attached, no way Kibo can even get that far, and six crew is out of the question. So by hiding behind this "safety of flight" issue, Hale is playing chicken, hoping to avoid the hard questions that will be coming his and ISS Viceroy Suffredini's way and to buy time for finding solutions for the other critical issues facing ISS.
So look for a roll-back to the VAB, a couple of more space-walks on ISS to localize the SARJ problem, and a slip of the Hubble repair mission into late Fall. But don't look for Hale to blink and launch Atlantis anytime in January.
Its probably a good thing that February has 29 days this year!