March 12th, 2009 20:30 EST
Discovery Set to Launch Tonight After Delay
NASA scheduled to launch the space shuttle Discovery yesterday, but due to a gas leak, they delayed its launch until tests confirmed it was cleared of any problems.
As the launch crew was filing the external fuel tank, gaseous hydrogen began to leak from the tank, which postponed the flight. Fortunately, the seven astronauts slated to be on the Discovery hadn`t yet boarded the craft.
This development comes as another delay occurring to the deferred voyage.
The Discovery was originally planned to take off in mid-February to deliver the last set of solar wings to the international space station, when the shuttle`s hydrogen gas valves were deemed unsafe by the agency`s standards. The cargo hold of the shuttle carries 31,000 pounds of containment structure including the two folded-up solar wings and a radiator.
As of now, the space station has six solar wings that produce 75 percent of the electrical energy necessary to power the outpost. The last two wings will complement that resource. This pair of solar wings, which is in fact the oldest set that will adhere to the station, cost $300 million to complete. This component will be the last U.S.-constructed piece added to the space station, crucial to its survival in orbit around the Earth.
After the astronauts implement the solar wing structure to the station, and the wings expand and become operational, the international space station will then be 80 percent built. Construction on the space station should be finished by next year. Coincidentally, NASA plans to retire the current space shuttle line at the same time. The agency hasn`t yet released any information about the design of the new spacecraft that will ferry astronauts to and from the I.S.S. but it currently under production. Once the ferry is produced as the new NASA line, the spacecraft will be capable of transporting astronauts to the moon.
Concerning the looming Discovery launch, Robert Ashley, the payload manager, said: "we`re excited about the impending launch, but at the same time there will be a little sadness as this will mark the end of an era for the space station program.
For the first time in NASA mission history, two educator astronauts will be a part of the flight crew on board. Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold II were picked as the mission`s top choices in 2004.
Joining the rest of the Discovery`s crew, Koichi Wakata is a crewmember from Japan. Actually, Wakata will be the first of his fellow countrymen and women to live on the International Space Station.
NASA officials state that the leak happening on Wednesday occurred in the plumbing outside the shuttle`s fuselage, and had nothing to do with the problematic hydrogen gas valves from before.
The space agency plans for the Discovery to launch Thursday night.