Image: Mike Leinbach, NASA Assistant Shuttle Launch Director for the STS-127 mission.
Bill Ingalls  /  AFP - Getty Images
Assistant launch director Mike Leinbach monitors the countdown for the shuttle Endeavour's planned liftoff from Firing Room 4 at NASA's Launch Control Center in Florida on Monday. Stormy weather forced a 48-hour postponement of the launch.
updated 7/13/2009 9:13:59 PM ET 2009-07-14T01:13:59

Thunderstorms once again forced NASA to call off the launch of space shuttle Endeavour on Monday, the fifth delay for the space station construction mission.

NASA opted not to take a chance on Tuesday's weather and said it would try again on Wednesday instead.

In a scene nearly identical to Sunday, launch managers halted the countdown just minutes before Endeavour and seven astronauts were supposed to blast off in the early evening.

This time, storms packed with lightning popped up on opposite sides of the launching site, one after the other, close enough to violate NASA's safety rules.

Endeavour has been grounded for an entire month now, first by leaks, then by storms.

"The weather has just bitten us again," launch director Pete Nickolenko informed commander Mark Polansky and his crew aboard Endeavour. "So sorry about that."

"We understand," Polansky replied. "That's the nature of our business and like I said before, when the time is right, we'll be here, we'll be ready."

Nickolenko told Polansky that the weather was expected to worsen on Tuesday, then improve on Wednesday. Forecasters expect a 60 percent chance of favorable weather for Wednesday's try, scheduled for 6:03 p.m. ET.

If the shuttle isn't flying soon, it will have to wait until July 26 so Russia can launch supplies to the space station. As it is, NASA will have to rearrange the astronauts' schedule in orbit if they launch Wednesday. A final try on Thursday — not yet approved — would mean eliminating one of the five planned spacewalks and shortening the flight.

Endeavour needs to be out of the way before Russia's unmanned cargo ship can dock.

This was the third day in a row that thunderstorms prevented Endeavour from blasting off with the final piece of Japan's space station lab. Back in June, hydrogen gas leaks stalled two launch attempts.

The only technical concern Monday was a loose cover on a shuttle thruster. NASA said it would secure the cover before Wednesday's try to prevent rain from getting into the thruster.

Endeavour holds the third and final segment of Japan's enormous $1 billion space station lab, named Kibo, or Hope. It's a porch for experiments that need to be exposed to the vacuum of space. The shuttle also is loaded with large spare parts for the space station and hundreds of pounds of food for the six station residents.

When the shuttle astronauts arrive at the space station, they will make up the biggest crowd ever in a single place in orbit: 13 people.

More on Endeavour | international space station

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Video: Storms halt Endeavour launch


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