Video: Glenn: For astronauts, a scrub is 'a big disappointment'

By Alan Boyle Science editor
msnbc.com
updated 4/29/2011 8:37:54 PM ET 2011-04-30T00:37:54

NASA mission managers say they'll try again to launch the space shuttle Endeavour as early as Monday, once they figure out the cause of a puzzling problem with heaters in one of the craft's auxiliary power units.

Friday's high-profile countdown was called off even as Endeavour's six-man crew was heading for Launch Pad 39A. Liftoff would be delayed for at least three days, and possibly longer, NASA launch director Mike Leinbach said.

  1. Space news from NBCNews.com
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

"We will not fly this machine until it's ready, and today it was not ready to go," he told journalists.

The shuttle's three auxiliary power units provide hydraulic pressure to operate the control system during atmospheric flight. Although the shuttle can operate with only one of the units working, NASA's launch rules state that all three have to be functional for liftoff.

One of the thermostats in the heating system apparently suffered a hard failure, and another was exhibiting "funny behavior," Leinbach reported. He said engineers suspect that there may be a short circuit either in a switchbox or in an electrical line leading to the box.

"If we can go down the easy path, we're still on track for Monday morning," he said. But Leinbach said NASA might have to delay the next launch attempt for more than a week if the problem turns out to be complicated. He expected a weekend round of troubleshooting to tell the tale.

The delay meant that hundreds of thousands of spectators would miss out on seeing Endeavour's final liftoff on Friday. Would-be witnesses included President Barack Obama and his family; and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically wounded during a January mass shooting.

Giffords — who is married to Endeavour's commander, Mark Kelly — was flown to Florida from her Houston rehabilitation center this week to watch the launch. "Bummed about the scrub!!" the congresswoman's staff wrote in a Twitter update. "But important to make sure everything on shuttle is working properly."

"We're all bummed," NASA astronaut Ron Garan tweeted back from the International Space Station, Endeavour's intended destination.

Thousands go home disappointed
Giffords and the Obamas were to watch the liftoff from secure locations here at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while NASA expected as many as 750,000 other spectators to gather at VIP areas and public viewing spots. Thousands of people had already taken up places along the roads surrounding the launch site and had to go home disappointed.

Despite the launch scrub, Obama and his entourage were flown in to Kennedy Space Center on military helicopters for a quick tour of NASA facilities, allowing the president to meet with Kelly and Giffords as well as other members of Endeavour's crew and their families.

  1. Most popular

The launch was called off less than four hours before the scheduled 3:47 p.m. ET liftoff time, just as Kelly and his crew were heading out toward the launch pad. The van carrying the crew stopped at NASA's launch control center, then turned around to return to crew quarters as word of the postponement got out.

Before the postponement, forecasters said there was a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather for launch. When the appointed time for liftoff came, they said Endeavour would have been "go" for launch if weather were the only determining factor. Mike Moses, who chairs NASA's pre-launch mission management team, said that fact served to rub "a little salt in the wound."

Endeavour's mission to the space station, known as STS-134, represents the shuttle's last scheduled flight before retirement and the second-last flight of the 30-year space shuttle program.

15 tons of supplies
Endeavour is loaded up with nearly 15 tons of supplies and equipment, highlighted by the 7.5-ton Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, which will be attached to the space station's exterior during a robotic arm operation. Once it's installed, the $2 billion particle detector will almost immediately start sending down data about cosmic rays.

Physicists from 16 nations have worked for 17 years to build the AMS, and for a while it looked as if all that effort would be wasted. Fortunately, Congress and NASA worked together to get the van-sized device on this mission. Over the next decade or longer, physicists hope that findings from the AMS will shed light on the mysteries surrounding the nature of dark matter, and the balance of matter and antimatter in the universe.

Endeavour's payload also includes a platform that will be used to store spare parts at the station, communication equipment and a wide range of scientific experiments.

Shuttle program's last spacewalks
Four spacewalks are to be conducted during the shuttle's visit, marking the last outings by shuttle astronauts at the space station. The spacewalkers are to install equipment, do electrical work and conduct maintenance on the station's cooling system and robotic arm system.

In addition to Kelly, the all-male, all-veteran crew includes pilot Greg Johnson, spacewalkers Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff, and Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori. The mission is currently scheduled to last 14 days, but NASA could extend it another day or two.

When Endeavour's mission is over, it will be prepared as a museum piece for the California Science Center in Los Angeles. NASA has scheduled only one more shuttle flight to the station, to be taken on by Atlantis this summer.

After the shuttles retire, NASA will have to depend on Russian, European and Japanese transports to get supplies to the space station — at least until next year, when U.S. commercial cargo flights are due to begin. NASA hopes that commercial crew transports will become available starting in the middle of this decade.

Earlier this month, NASA said it would pay up to $269.3 million to four companies — Blue Origin, the Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX — to work on those future spaceships. Mark Sirangelo, Sierra Nevada's executive vice president, said he saw the program as a "bridge" between the shuttle era and the next stage of human spaceflight.

"I don't see it as an end," he told reporters. "I see it as the beginning of the next step."

More from Cape Canaveral:

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Photos: The life of space shuttle Endeavour

loading photos...
  1. Special delivery

    Endeavour was the last space shuttle to join NASA's fleet: It was built to replace the shuttle Challenger, which was lost in an explosion shortly after launch in 1986. This view shows Endeavour perched atop a modified Boeing 747 on May 2, 1991, beginning the ferry flight from Palmdale, Calif. - where the shuttle was built - to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. First liftoff

    Endeavour lifts off from Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 1992, beginning its first mission. The STS-49 mission's primary task was the repair of the Intelsat VI telecommunications satellite. Endeavour was the only shuttle to make its maiden flight from Pad 39B. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Grab that satellite!

    Endeavour astronauts Richard Hieb, Thomas Akers and Pierre Thuot hold onto the 4.5-ton Intelsat VI satellite after making a six-handed "capture" on May 13, 1992. The satellite failed to rise above low Earth orbit when it was launched in 1990. During Endeavour's maiden mission, astronauts retrieved the satellite, attached it to a new upper-stage booster and relaunched it to its intended geosynchronous orbit. This mission marked the first time that three people from the same spacecraft walked in space at the same time. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Science in space

    Endeavour astronauts Jan Davis, left, and Mae Jemison prepare to deploy the lower body negative pressure apparatus on Sept. 15, 1992. Scientific research was the main focus of this Spacelab-J mission, also known as STS-47. The mission's crew included the first African-American woman to fly in space (Mae Jemison) and the only husband-and-wife team to go into space together (Jan Davis and Mark Lee). (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fixing Hubble

    Astronauts flew on Endeavour to take on the first Hubble servicing mission in December 1993. In this picture, spacewalkers Story Musgrave and Jeffrey Hoffman perform an orbital ballet. The coastline of western Australia is visible below. The complex and highly successful repair mission allowed Hubble, which was launched with a defective mirror, to see into the universe with unprecedented clarity. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Building the station

    Endeavour spacewalker Jim Newman holds onto the International Space Station's Unity connecting module as he removes covers and works on connecting cables on Dec. 7, 1998. The STS-88 flight marked the shuttle fleet's first space station assembly mission. (AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Erroneous endeavor

    The shuttle Endeavour sits on its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 11, 2007. "Endeavor" is spelled incorrectly on the banner. The shuttle was named after the HMS Endeavour, the British sailing ship that carried Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery from 1768 to 1771. That's why Endeavour reflects the British spelling of the word. (Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Spacewalkers at work

    During the first spacewalk of the STS-118 mission, on Aug. 11, 2007, astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Canada's Dave Williams (out of frame) attach a new segment of the International Space Station's truss and retract a collapsible radiator. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Class portrait

    The crew members of Endeavour's STS-118 crew pose for their official portrait on Aug. 8, 2007. From left are Rick Mastracchio, Barbara Morgan, pilot Charles Hobaugh, mission commander Scott Kelly, Tracy Caldwell, Canadian astronaut Dave Williams and Alvin Drew. During this flight, Morgan became the first educator astronaut to go into orbit. In 1986, she was the backup for Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher who died in the Challenger explosion. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Great view

    Endeavour spacewalker Rick Mastracchio relocates communications equipment on the International Space Station during an outing on Aug. 15, 2007. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A gouge in the tiles

    Tiles on the underside of the space shuttle Endeavour show evidence of damage in a photo taken on Aug. 12, 2007, using the shuttle's robotic arm and a camera-tipped extension boom. The close-up imagery helped mission managers determine that the gouge would pose no threat during Endeavour's atmospheric re-entry. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Eye of the hurricane

    Crew members aboard the shuttle Endeavour captured this picture of Hurricane Dean's eye in the Caribbean on Aug. 18, 2007. The STS-118 mission ended on Aug. 21, one day earlier than planned, to avoid potential complications due to the storm. Forecasters worried that Hurricane Dean could have swept over Houston around the time of landing - but in the end, the storm took a different course. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In control

    NASA Administrator Michael Griffin watches the liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavour from the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 14, 2008. The STS-126 mission delivered two spare bedrooms as well as a second kitchen and bathroom to the International Space Station. (Bill Ingalls / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Repairs at the pad

    Workers perform repairs on the shuttle Endeavour's external fuel tank at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad on June 14, 2009. The launch team detected a leak of hydrogen fuel from the tank, forcing a delay in Endeavour's STS-127 launch. The mission's main task was the delivery of the final segment of Japan's Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station. (Tim Jacobs / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Lightning strikes

    A giant bolt of lightning hits Endeavour's Florida launch pad on July 10, 2009. Technical problems and severe weather forced five delays in Endeavour's STS-127 launch. (Gene Blevins / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Liftoff at last!

    The space shuttle Endeavour rises from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A on July 15, 2009, on the STS-127 mission's sixth launch attempt. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Parting glance

    The space shuttle Endeavour is photographed from the International Space Station soon after its departure on July 28, 2009. A Soyuz spacecraft docked at the station is visible in the foreground. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Twilight of the shuttle

    The shuttle Endeavour is silhouetted against different layers of the sunlit atmosphere during its approach to the International Space Station on Feb. 9, 2010. The primary payloads for Endeavour's STS-130 mission were the Tranquility module and the Cupola observation deck and control station. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Check out this view!

    Astronaut George Zamka, Endeavour's commander for the STS-130 mission, peeks out a window of the International Space Station's newly installed Cupola observation deck on Feb. 19, 2010. The Cupola provides an unparalleled view of Earth below. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Tanks for the memories

    The external fuel tank for Endeavour's final mission, STS-134, is transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 14, 2010. STS-134's main payload is the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an international physics experiment. (John Raoux / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The view from above

    The space shuttle Endeavour is lowered into place for attachment to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 1, 2011. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Greeting the day

    The sun rises as photographers gather on a hill to take pictures shortly after the shuttle Endeavour's arrival at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A on March 11, 2011. (Roberto Gonzalez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Into the clouds

    Photographers track the space shuttle Endeavour's ascent as it pierces the clouds and disappears after launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 16. (Craig Rubadoux / Daytona Beach News-Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Godspeed, Endeavour!

    Spectators react as the space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 16. Hundreds of thousands of people watched the start of the next-to-last space shuttle flight. (Scott Audette / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Above the clouds

    Stefanie Gordon captured this remarkable picture of the space shuttle Endeavour rising above Florida's cloud cover on May 16 while she was on a commercial flight from New York to Palm Beach, Fla. (Stefanie Gordon / for msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. The last spacewalk

    NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff holds a handrail during the fourth and last spacewalk conducted by the shuttle Endeavour's crew at the International Space Station on May 27. Chamitoff and astronaut Michael Fincke (visible in the reflections from Chamitoff's helmet visor) transferred an inspection boom system, completing U.S. assembly of the station. The May 27 outing marked the last scheduled spacewalk to be conducted by a space shuttle crew. (Nasa T.V. via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Night passage

    Backdropped by a nighttime view of Earth and the starry sky, the space shuttle Endeavour is seen docked to the International Space Station on May 28. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Landing in the dark

    The space shuttle Endeavour lands for the last time at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 1, 2011. The touchdown capped Endeavour's 16-day mission to deliver a $2 billion science experiment to the International Space Station on NASA's next-to-last shuttle flight. (Joe Skipper / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Blastoff into history

    A NASA poster pays tribute to Endeavour and its space missions over the past two decades. The shuttle is shown rising to orbit, with patches for each of its missions laid out in a spiral. The HMS Endeavour, which inspired the spaceship's name, is shown at lower right. At upper left, pictures of Endeavour are framed in the windows of the Cupola. The background image depicts the nebula NGC 602 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, which was first serviced by Endeavour in 1993. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. NASA
    Above: Slideshow (29) Shuttle Endeavour, this is your life
  2. Image:
    Y. Beletsky / ESO
    Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014

Timeline: Space shuttle timeline

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments