NASA has delayed the final launch of the space shuttle Discovery by a day so it can investigate and repair gas leaks.
The shuttle was scheduled to take off Monday for an 11-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver spare parts and components, as well as a humanoid robot that will become a permanent resident of the station.
However, NASA discovered helium and nitrogen leaks in the pressurization portion of its right-hand Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pod on Thursday that must be repaired before the launch.
In a press conference Friday, NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding said the repairs are routine and similar ones have been done before. He does not anticipate it will be difficult to fix the problem in time for a Tuesday launch despite the fact that overnight repairs Thursday were not entirely successful.
"These types of challenges are not uncommon," he said. "We're going to fly this vehicle when it's ready to go."
While the space shuttle has had gas leaks in the past, Spaulding said they were unrelated to the one discovered Friday. He added that this kind of repair has been done before while the craft was already on the launch pad.
Even if the shuttle is ready to go Tuesday, there is a 30 percent chance that inclement weather could delay the launch further, officials said during the press conference.
Tuesday also is mid-term election day in the U.S., and officials said they are making arrangements to ensure those involved in the launch will have time to vote even if they are meant to take part in launch activities.
The Discovery flew its first mission Aug. 30, 1984, and has returned to space 38 times since then. The space shuttle program's last flight is scheduled for Feb. 27, 2011, when the space shuttle Endeavor will carry supplies to the ISS.