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Endeavour fueled for 5th attempt at launch

TECHNICIANS began filling shuttle Endeavour's fuel tank yesterday for a fifth attempt to deliver a Japanese-built porch and spare parts to the International Space Station.

The mission, one of the longest and most complex American space agency NASA has attempted, has been delayed a month by fuel leaks and bad weather.

The liftoff was set for Beijing time this morning, though the weather again may be an issue. Meteorologists predicted a 60-percent chance of thunderstorms and rain grounding the shuttle another day.

"We're going to give it a shot," said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel.

In preparation for launch, technicians began pumping 1.9 million liters of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen into the shuttle's tank.

The fuel will be consumed by the shuttle's three main engines during the 8.5-minute ride to orbit.

If it rains in the hours before the launch, NASA may opt to call off the launch attempt because water could seep inside one of the shuttle's steering thrusters, possibly creating problems when it would be fired up in space to maneuver the shuttle.

The thrusters are launched with covers, but one came loose during Sunday's launch attempt.

Managers considered delaying the launch another day to replace the cover, but decided instead to proceed with the countdown and hope for good weather.

The agency has until tomorrow to get Endeavour into orbit before it would stand it down until July 27 to allow a Russian Progress cargo ship to launch and dock at the station.

NASA has eight shuttle missions remaining to complete construction of the orbital outpost, a US$100 billion project of 16 nations.


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