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Weather delays space shuttle Endeavour launch
Even before storm clouds gathered on Thursday, an engine problem threatened the launch. A pressure build-up in one of the maneuvering engines used by the shuttle in orbit caused a lengthy halt in the countdown.
By the time launch managers had the problem fixed, storm clouds had moved into the area of the Kennedy Space Center, forcing a delay of at least 24 hours. But the forecast remains bad for the rest of the week.
As word reached launch director Mike Leinbach that the left orbital maneuvering engine had passed a computerized test, he could be seen on a television feed looking out the window at dark clouds rolling over the launch control center.
"We will scrub today," Leinbach told the launch team 21 minutes before the scheduled 7:44 p.m. liftoff. Friday's launch attempt was set for 7:22 p.m.
"We see no hope at all in our weather situation improving," NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham said.
NASA will try again to launch on Friday, but the weather forecast again calls for late afternoon thunderclouds that could harm the shuttle with either lightening or rain.
The delay means a new space duration record for two Americans aboard the International Space Station. Americans Daniel Bursch and Carl Walz and their Russian commander, Yury Onufrienko, were to return home aboard Endeavour on June 11, just hours short of the 188-day mark set by Shannon Lucid during a stay aboard the Russian Mir complex in 1996.
Onufrienko will come nowhere near the Russian record of 495 days.
If Bursch and Walz celebrated their pending record, it was short, since they were scheduled to begin a sleep period shortly after liftoff.
The major task for this crew is to leave behind three of their number and return a space station crew that has been aboard the orbiting outpost since December.
Spacewalkers will also add a new base for the station's robot arm to the rail car and replace a wrist joint on the robot.
While in orbit, spacewalkers will repair the station's Canadian-built construction robot. The Russians are sending up debris shields to help protect their Zvezda service module from micrometeoroid impact, and the European Space Agency is sending up its first major piece of science gear, a large glovebox that will allow astronauts to handle potentially hazardous materials without risking the life support system on the station.
Endeavour's mission is most notable for its international flavor. The crew includes a Moroccan-born Frenchman, two Russians and four Americans, among them a naturalized citizen born and raised in Costa Rico.
Endeavour is commanded by veteran Kenneth Cockrell. His back-up is rookie pilot Paul Lockhart. The spacewalkers are Franklin Chang-Diaz, making his record-tying seventh space voyage, and rookie French astronaut Philippe Perrin.
Russian Valery Korzun is commander of the new space station crew that will stay behind when Endeavour departs.
Korzun is a veteran of the Mir space station. He is joined on the 4-1/2-month tour by two rookies, American Peggy Whitson and Russian Sergei Treschev.
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