After calling off last Friday's planned final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, NASA now says the earliest it might lift off is May 8.
Technicians and engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center have been working to identify the problem behind the delay; NASA now says it could take "several days" to make any repairs and do the requisite tests before the shuttle would be safe for launch.
"We can tell you, pretty much, that it's not going to be any earlier than [May 8]," said Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses on Sunday. "We're really not even setting the schedules today. There's still a whole lot of short-term work that has to be done."
Just hours before Endeavour's scheduled liftoff Friday afternoon, Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach announced the postponement, citing problems with two heaters associated with the shuttle's Auxiliary Power Unit. The unit provides hydraulic power during the shuttle's ascent and entry.
This morning, NASA announced that the problem stems from trouble with a box of switches that control power feeds on the auxiliary unit. The plan is to remove that box and replace it with a brand new one.
The six-man crew will use this extra time to squeeze in some extra training, according to the space agency.
Endeavour is poised for a 15-day mission to bring equipment and supplies to the International Space Station. The equipment includes two S-band communication antennas, spare parts for the station's humanoid robot, and a spare arm for the station's Dextre robot.
The shuttle also is carrying a piece of equipment that will search space for some of the biggest mysteries of physics -- antimatter and dark matter. The AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) particle detector will be installed and operated on the International Space Station.
After this mission, Endeavour will be retired. Space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to liftoff on its final mission in June, making it the last shuttle scheduled to fly in space.
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