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11/5/2010
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Shuttle Discovery Suffers Hydrogen Leak

NASA's next attempt to launch spacecraft on its final mission will come no earlier than Monday.

Space shuttle Discovery is still poised to make its final flight into space—if it can ever get off the ground. NASA officials on Friday scrubbed Discovery's launch for the third time in less than a week, with the latest cancellation stemming from a leaky hydrogen system.

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

NASA crews discovered the leak in a component known as the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate, which is part of a system that carries excess hydrogen safely away from Discovery's external fuel tank.

NASA's next attempt to launch Discovery from Florida's Kennedy Space Center will come no earlier than Monday.

Discovery was originally scheduled to launch Monday, but space agency officials scrubbed that plan after detecting a helium leak.

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.

Upon achieving orbit, Discovery will execute a series of positioning maneuvers prior to docking with the ISS, where the crew will drop off various parts and supplies. Mission specialists Drew and Kopra will also undertake a pair of six-hour spacewalks during the mission. Stott, meanwhile, plans to broadcast regular mission updates through her Twitter account, @Astro_Nicole.

NASA, through its Web site, is also giving the public the chance to help select the songs that will serve as wakeup calls for the Discovery crew during their mission.

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