NASA to try to launch Endeavour Sunday after delay

Florida, July 12, 2009 (AFP) - The US space agency will make another attempt Sunday to launch the space shuttle Endeavour after a dramatic lightning storm forced it to postpone the flight in the latest blow to the seven-astronaut mission.

With just nine hours to go before liftoff, NASA said the launch would be scrapped, citing 11 lightning strikes near the Cape Canaveral launch site during a powerful electrical storm late Friday.

Space Shuttle Endeavour STS-127 stands on Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center July 11, 2009 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (AFP photo)

"We decided we are going to take 24 more hours to continue to review our data," said Mike Moses, the head of the mission.

Moses later announced that the launch was rescheduled for 7:13 pm (2313 GMT) Sunday, and said the weather forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of acceptable conditions for takeoff.

After the lightning storm overnight, NASA technical teams were dispatched to examine the shuttle for damage.

The launch pad is equipped with a lightning protection system of wires that is intended to steer bolts away from the shuttle.

Spokesman George Diller said there was "no damage found on the shuttle or on the pad systems," but that engineers needed to examine whether the lightning could have caused other problems.

While none of the strikes hit the shuttle or its external tank and solid rocket boosters, but there were strikes to the lightning mast and water tower, NASA said.

Moses said NASA would examine the space shuttle orbiter and the solid rocket boosters further to "be 100 percent confident that we have a good system across the board."

The hold-up spells more tension for Endeavour's seven-member crew and the NASA experts who have now been forced to abandon the shuttle's launch three times.

Two previous launch attempts were scuttled by potentially hazardous fuel leaks, apparently caused by a misaligned plate linking a hydrogen gas vent line with the external fuel tank.

Saturday's delay came before NASA could begin the process of pouring two million liters (half a million gallons) of liquid hydrogen into the tanks at very low temperatures, which engineers would have eagerly monitored for more leaks.

But the bad weather had been expected. Shuttle weather officer Kathy Winters earlier warned that showers, thunderstorms and icy clouds could interfere with the final countdown.

Late Friday, NASA removed the shuttle's giant scaffolding-flanked shroud, heralding the final preparations for the beginning of Endeavour's voyage to the International Space Station.

Endeavour's crew -- including six Americans and one Canadian -- had been expected to leave Cape Canaveral for a 16-day voyage to the ISS.

There they were expected to install a platform for astronauts to conduct experiments in the vacuum of space, 350 kilometers (220 miles) above Earth's surface.

Among the crew, Julie Payette, an electrical and information engineer, is the only woman on board.

She has been into space before, as have two other members of the crew, including shuttle commander Mark Polansky.

The crew's four other members will be on their maiden space voyage.

American aerospace engineer Tim Kopra, 46, will replace Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, spending several months aboard the floating space station.

He would be the latest addition to the permanent crew of the ISS, which is a joint collaboration between 16 different countries.

The astronauts were also expected also undertake repair and replacement work, including installing six new batteries in the ISS.

That mission will require two astronauts to conduct five space walks totaling 32.5 hours.

The Endeavour mission is the last of three trips being undertaken to assemble the Japanese Kibo laboratory aboard the orbiting space station.

Kibo's two pressurized modules were attached to the ISS in 2008, along with the European lab Columbus.

Source: AFP

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