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Discovery's departure delayed yet again

NASA postponed space shuttle Discovery's flight to the International Space Station on Wednesday due to a hydrogen leak during fueling and said it would try again on Sunday.

The purpose of the flight - the first of five planned for this year - is to deliver a final set of solar power panels to the space station and transport Japan's first astronaut to serve as a member of the manned station crew.

Wednesday's launch attempt from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was called off while the shuttle was being filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the ride to orbit.

"Our business requires perfection and our vehicle was not perfect today," said shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach. "Hydrogen gas leaking overboard is not an acceptable condition."

The leak appeared around a vent valve that funnels hydrogen gases that have boiled off during the fill-up to a disposal system on the ground, creating a potential fire hazard.

Managers expect to meet again on Friday to discuss repair options. NASA has until next Tuesday to get Discovery off the launch pad to avoid a conflict with a Russian mission to deliver a new crew member to the space station.

If Discovery cannot fly before the Soyuz arrival, NASA will reschedule the mission for April.

But a delayed launch means the shuttle crew will have to shave a few days off its planned 14-day mission.

Mike Moses, head of the shuttle mission management team, said at least one of the Discovery crew's four planned space walks would be canceled and the work given to the three space station crew members.

Discovery's mission had already been delayed a month due to safety concerns about fuel pressure valves.

Wednesday's fuel leak was unrelated to the valve issue, officials said.

Meanwhile, the crew members of the space station were forced to take refuge in the Soyuz escape capsule for 11 minutes last night because of the possibility of space junk hitting the station.


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