Hydrogen Leak Grounds Shuttle Endeavour
Shuttle Endeavour won't be launched before Wednesday and a conflict with a moon mission and a looming launch deadline could push the agency's next International Space Station assembly mission to mid-July.
That was the word at a news conference Saturday about 90 minutes after a hydrogen gas leak near the end of an external tank fuel-loading operation prompted NASA to scrub a planned 7:17 a.m. launch.
The leak was near identical to one that caused a four-day delay in the launch of shuttle Discovery back in May - a failure whose root cause NASA never has been able to pinpoint.
NASA Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach called the leak "significant" - well above launch commit criteria - and said the decision to stand down was a no-brainer.
"Hydrogen is a commodity you just don't mess with," he said.
A very volatile substance, hydrogen is highly flammable and a leak could cause a catastrophe during launch.
The scrub and subsequent delay raises questions about whether the agency will be able to launch Endeavour's International Space Station assembly mission before mid-July.
Although Endeavour's launch was scrubbed shortly after midnight, some of the nearly two dozen people hoping to see the space spectacle at a prime viewing spot didn't get the message until too late Saturday morning.
At Jetty Park a sign announcing the delay greeted vehicles about 5:30 a.m.
Some turned around. Others headed in for some time at beach - even without the space spectacle.
Donna Hollingsworth, 52, drove over from Tampa with her husband and 18-year-old son.
"We're just going to stay the day," she said. "We always wanted to see one, and they're always during the week, and there's not that many left."
Husband Fred, 54, had one word for his reaction to the news: "Bummed."
There were more than two dozen vehicles in the parking lot at the park.
Some people were sleeping in their cars as the sun rose.