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NASA’s Endeavour Launch Delayed

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NASA has called off the second-to-last space shuttle launch of the Endeavour, until at least May 10th.  The reason for the setback is that upon inspections technicians discovered a heater malfunction.  The mission managers determined that ground teams will need more time to complete the necessary repairs to one of the orbiter’s power systems.

The auxiliary power unit, which is located in the shuttle’s rear section, will determine if the next launch remains on schedule depending on complicated testing and repairs.  This malfunction caused NASA to shut things down immediately and send the mission’s astronauts back home to Houston.  Further inspection discovered the specific problem to be a box of switches that controls the actual power feeds, known as the aft load control assembly-2 or ALCA-2.  Mike Moses, the Manager of the Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration team explained, “That basically means the power is not getting out to the heaters that weren’t working on launch day.”

Endeavour was originally scheduled to launch Friday afternoon, April 29th, but then the auxiliary power unit failed.  The agency was targeting May 8th as the next earliest launch opportunity but the shuttle program have adjusted the date to a tentative May 10th after a meeting discussing and evaluating the time needed to remove and test the faulty component.  Agency officials will continue to evaluate the progress of repairs and at this point, the date is not set in stone and adjustments will be made as needed.

The delay of Endeavour’s liftoff has given the astronauts who fill fly the orbiter on its final mission the opportunity to return to Houston and resume training.  Mike Moses said, “The STS-134 crewmembers will remain in medical quarantine, which is standard practice in order to prevent illness.  The purpose is to stay away from any contagious illnesses that would take a few days to show up and manifest.”

The astronauts will spend the extra time practicing different procedures in the various shuttle simulators at Johnson Space Center.  Moses said, “The crews are unbelievably dedicated.  They don’t do anything in their free time other than study their checklists and practice their procedures.  They put their time in to be ready to go, that’s for sure.”

Endeavour is the second-to-last launch for NASA’s space shuttle program.  Its mission is to deliver to the International Space Station, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS).  It will be used to measure cosmic rays to gain a better understanding of cosmic radiation.  The $2 billion particle detector is also hoped to function in order to uncover the mysteries of dark matter.  The AMS weighs 15,000 pounds and is expected to last for the rest of the station’s life, 10 years.

NASA’s last scheduled shuttle, Atlantis, is set to travel to the International Space Station some undetermined time in June.

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