Repairs Delay Space Shuttle Discovery's Last Launch to Wednesday
Space shuttle Discovery is prepared for its final launch into space, which is scheduled for Nov. 1, 2010 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
CREDIT: NASA/Troy Cryder
This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. EDT.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. ? The final launch of the space shuttle Discovery has been delayed another 24 hours ? to Nov. 3 ? to allow engineers more time to address troublesome leaks that were found on the orbiter late Thursday (Oct. 28).
Engineers have been scrambling to fix leaky helium and nitrogen seals in one of Discovery's twin aft-mounted engine pods. The leaks are in seals used to pressurize fuel line plumbing in one of the shuttle's orbital maneuvering system pods.
NASA managers met this morning and made the decision to delay the shuttle's launch, after it was deemed impossible to meet Tuesday's window. The Nov. 3 liftoff is now targeted for 3:52 p.m. EDT (1952 GMT).
Technicians here at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. worked overnight to complete repairs, and made good progress, but are slightly behind the timeline that was prepared yesterday, NASA test director Jeff Spaulding told reporters in a status briefing this morning (Oct. 30).
"As we went through the day yesterday, we found that there were additional things we needed to do," Spaulding said. "There was quite a bit more work we needed to do from a leak check perspective. As a result of that, we're a bit down on our timelines."
The necessary repairs and replacements have been made to the faulty seals, but shuttle technicians will need to work throughout the day and night to re-pressurize Discovery's orbital maneuvering system rocket engine.
Discovery has until Sunday, Nov. 7, to launch in the current window, Spaulding said, which "gives us five days of attempts to get off the ground."
The weather forecast for Wednesday's launch currently calls for a 70 percent chance of acceptable conditions, according to Kathy Winters, NASA's shuttle weather officer. The main concerns are low clouds and isolated showers in the area that could prevent liftoff. [Video: Legacy of Shuttle Discovery]
On its 11-day mission, Discovery will haul critical spare parts to the space station, including a storage room and a humanoid robot to assist the crew of the orbiting laboratory.
Discovery's final flight will be NASA's 133rd shuttle mission, before the space agency brings its 30-year space shuttle program to a close in 2011.
NASA will retire the three remaining shuttles in its fleet ? Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour ? next year to make way for a new plan aimed at sending astronauts to visit an asteroid and Mars. Discovery is the oldest of NASA's space shuttles.
President Obama recently signed a major NASA act that turns his vision for U.S. space exploration into law. The NASA authorization act scraps the space agency's previous moon-oriented goal and paves the way for a manned mission to an asteroid by 2025. A manned mission to Mars is envisioned for some time in the 2030s.
The bill also calls for a budget of $19 billion for NASA in 2011, adding one extra space shuttle flight before the fleet retires next year, and the extension of the International Space Station through at least 2020.
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Follow SPACE.com Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow as she covers Discovery's final space voyage from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Click here for mission updates, new stories and a link to NASA's live webcast coverage.
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