Gas leak delays space shuttle launch for second time

Wed Jun 17, 2009 7:32am EDT
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By Irene Klotz

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA canceled the launch of space shuttle Endeavour on Wednesday for the second time after a potentially dangerous hydrogen gas leak surfaced while the ship was being fueled for flight.

An identical problem stymied a launch attempt on Saturday. Technicians had replaced seals in a hydrogen vent line in hopes of stemming the leak.

The next opportunity to launch Endeavour will be on July 11.

"We're going to step back and figure out what the problem is and go fix it," said deputy shuttle program manager LeRoy Cain. "Obviously we have something here we didn't understand as well as we thought we may have."

Endeavour had been scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:40 a.m. EDT on Wednesday on a 16-day mission to install a Japanese-built porch on the International Space Station.

NASA had first hoped to launch Endeavour last Saturday but sensors detected dangerous levels of hydrogen gas escaping from a vent line and the launch was halted. A similar problem occurred during an attempt to launch sister ship Discovery in March.

The vent line removes hydrogen that has turned from liquid to gas inside the shuttle's fuel tank. The gas is funneled to a flare stack away from the shuttle and safely incinerated.

Since hydrogen is so volatile, the U.S. space agency has very tight safety restrictions on how much gas can be outside the shuttle.   Continued...

<p>A NASA security officer patrols the waters near the space shuttle Endeavour as it sits on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida June 16, 2009. REUTERS/Scott Audette</p>