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11/16/2010
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Shuttle Discovery In Repair Shop

Crews are fixing a hydrogen leak and cracks that posed significant safety risks.

NASA crews on Tuesday planned to begin repair work on the space shuttle Discovery, which suffered a series of mechanical glitches that resulted in the postponement of its final mission to the International Space Station.

Space Shuttle Discovery
(click image for larger view)
Space Shuttle Discovery

Engineers will install new hardware designed to fix a hydrogen leak that posed a significant safety risk, while another team fixes cracks along two, 21-foot support beams that are part of Discovery's external fuel tank.

NASA is now hoping to launch Discovery on its final voyage on Nov. 30. Mission managers will meet on Nov. 22nd for a status update to determine if the next launch window can be met.

Discovery was originally scheduled to lift off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 5, but several technical problems, along with uncooperative weather, kept the craft glued to the launch pad.

Discovery entered service in 1984, and is one of three remaining shuttles of the six originally built. Atlantis and Endeavour remain in service, while Challenger and Columbia were lost in accidents that claimed the lives of their crewmembers. The first shuttle, Enterprise, was a test vehicle that was retired shortly after its initial series of suborbital flights in 1977.

The shuttle program is expected to end in February when Endeavour takes to the skies for the final time.

President Obama earlier this year ordered NASA to turn over low-orbit flights to private contractors and focus more on deep space missions and research. Critics of the plan claim it will cost jobs along Florida's Spacecoast and in other states that support the shuttle program. They also say it could leave the U.S. lagging behind Russia and China in the space race.

Discovery will carry a six-member, all-U.S. crew on its final voyage, officially known as STS-133. The team is led by Commander Steve Lindsey, 50, of Temple City, Calif., and pilot Eric Boe, 45, of Atlanta. Also on board will be mission specialists Alvin Drew, 47, of Washington, D.C., Tim Kopra, 47, of Austin, Texas, Michael Barratt, 51, of Camas, Wash., and Nicole Stott, 47, of Clearwater, Fla.

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