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Gas leak delays space shuttle launch for 2nd time

NASA canceled the launch of space shuttle Endeavour today for the second time after a potentially dangerous hydrogen gas leak surfaced while the ship was being fueled.

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, a NASA official said.

Endeavour had been scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:40 am EDT (0940 GMT) today 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 US space agency has very tight safety restrictions on how much gas can be outside the shuttle.

The Eastern Test Range, which supports both shuttle and unmanned rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is planning to launch NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter between Thursday and Saturday.

The range can support only one type of rocket at a time and it takes about two days to reconfigure equipment for different launchers.

NASA is trying to finish building and outfitting the International Space Station by Sept. 30, 2010, so it can retire the shuttle fleet and move on to developing a new spaceship that can carry astronauts to the moon and other destinations beyond low-Earth orbit.

Eight missions remain to complete the station, a US$100 billion project of 16 nations that has been under construction 225 miles (362 km) above Earth for more than a decade.

The seven-member Endeavour crew will install the Japanese porch, replace batteries on one of the station's solar wing panels and perform other maintenance tasks in the third of five flights planned for this year.


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