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Space shuttle OK’d for liftoff after tests

Image: Shuttle on pad
Mission managers say the space shuttle Endeavour, seen here during last month's preparations for launch, has passed a tanking test — clearing the way for a fresh countdown to liftoff on July 11.NASA
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NASA will try to launch the space shuttle Endeavour on July 11, nearly a month late, after plugging a potentially dangerous hydrogen gas leak, top mission managers said Wednesday.

Endeavour successfully passed a leak check during a fueling test at its seaside Florida launch pad Wednesday, setting the stage for liftoff toward the international space station at 7:39 p.m. ET on July 11, said Mike Moses, who leads the shuttle's mission management team.

NASA initially tried to launch Endeavour on June 13, then again on June 17, but the hydrogen gas leak in the shuttle's external fuel tank thwarted both attempts.

Engineers pinpointed the leak in a misaligned ground umbilical carrier plate, or GUCP. The plate connects to a vent line that siphons excess hydrogen gas safely away from the tank and the orbiter during fueling.

"This one I feel really good about, that we've got that problem licked and we're not going to see another GUCP leak again on the next launch attempt," Moses told reporters.

Leak fix a success
Engineers replaced a Teflon seal and realigned the problematic plate, using special washers to plug the leak, which did not reappear during Wednesday's fueling test at Kennedy Space Center.

"Looks like the tank performed well," Endeavour's commander, Mark Polansky, said via his Twitter page.

Polansky is leading a seven-astronaut crew tasked with delivering the last piece of Japan's massive Kibo laboratory to the international space station during a 16-day mission. It is NASA's third shuttle flight of the year, but the first to the station since the outpost doubled its crew size to six people last month.

NASA has strict rules on the amount of hydrogen gas that can be near a space shuttle at launch time because the extremely flammable gas can pose an explosion risk to the shuttle and its crew.

During fueling, the space shuttle's external tank is loaded with about 526,000 gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Some of that hydrogen boils into gas over time and must be safely vented away from the shuttle and harmlessly burned off elsewhere.

Endeavour's repaired tank passed Wednesday's test with flying colors, mission managers said.

"There were absolutely no leak indications whatsoever noted on the two leak detectors," said NASA launch director Pete Nickolenko. "We'll continue to look at the data, and our next step is to move toward launch."

The Endeavour astronauts are slated to go into quarantine this weekend and return to their Florida spaceport on Tuesday, Polansky said. The countdown to Endeavour's July 11 launch will begin next Wednesday night, NASA officials said.

Atlantis window work
While one team of engineers prepares Endeavour for launch, another is tackling a window issue on the shuttle Atlantis.

During the shuttle's May flight to the Hubble Space Telescope, a work light knob jammed up against a flight deck window pane and dashboard panel. Initially the knob was stuck fast, but engineers managed to remove it on Tuesday by pressurizing Atlantis' cabin and applying dry ice to the knob.

Moses said technicians plan to take a mold of the window to see if the knob has caused damage that would require replacing the inner window, a potentially lengthy repair that could sideline Atlantis for up to eight months.

The shuttle is currently slated to launch supplies and parts to the space station on Nov. 12.

"It could take a very long time. It sounds very scary," Moses said of any serious repair. "But then again, I've learned this team is really good at re-sequencing and coming up with some creative ways to do some work in parallel."

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