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Technical failure delays Endeavour launch to Monday

30 april 2011, 11:11
REUTERS/Joe Skipper©
REUTERS/Joe Skipper©
The launch of the US space shuttle Endeavour was delayed at least 72 hours Friday due to a technical failure with the shuttle's heating units that arose shortly before liftoff, AFP reports referring to NASA.

Engineers were working to determine what caused the problem, which postponed until at least Monday the shuttle's last journey to the International Space Station in what will mark the second to last shuttle flight ever.

"We hope we can get there by Monday," said shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach. If not, other launch window options could open on May 4 or May 10.

President Barack Obama, who had planned to watch the launch, flew in with his family, did a brief tour of Kennedy Space Center and chatted with the six astronauts at Kennedy Space Center, the White House said.

The president also met with wounded lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords, who moved to Florida from a rehabilitation facility in Texas for the launch.

Giffords was shot in the head at a neighborhood political gathering in January but was allowed by her doctors in Houston, Texas to take a break from rehab in order to watch her husband, Mark Kelly, command the shuttle.

Meanwhile, NASA engineers drained the shuttle's external fuel tank and prepared to investigate further on Saturday afternoon.

Leinbach said the problem was related to an electrical failure in an auxiliary power unit linked to a fuel line heater.

"We need to keep those lines warm to keep them from freezing on orbit," Leinbach explained. "It was a hard failure. We were not able to get it to come to life no matter what we did."

"Today, the orbiter is not ready to fly and as we always say in this business, we will not fly before we are ready," Leinbach said.

The news came as a disappointment to as many as 750,000 onlookers who had converged on the area around Cape Canaveral to catch a glimpse of the shuttle's blast-off.

The shuttle Endeavour is the youngest of the three-member space flying fleet. It was built in the wake of the Challenger disaster in 1986 and flew its first mission to space in 1991.

Discovery, the oldest, flew its last mission in February and March, and is in the process of being stripped of all its valuable components ahead of its retirement in a museum on the edge of the US capital Washington.

Endeavour will carry a $2 billion, seven-ton particle physics detector, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, which will be left at the space station to scour the universe for clues as to how it all began.

There have been six space shuttles in all, including Endeavour, Atlantis and Discovery.

Enterprise was a prototype that never flew in space; Challenger exploded after liftoff in 1986, killing all seven on board; and Columbia disintegrated on its return to Earth in 2003, also killing seven astronauts.

By Jean-Louis Santini

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