NASA: Shuttle fueling test looks successful

Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 10:17 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 11:38 a.m.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. A fueling test on space shuttle Endeavour uncovered no worrisome hydrogen gas leaks Wednesday and paved the way for a launch in a week-and-a-half for the delayed mission, NASA said.

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In this image provided by NASA the afternoon sun creates shadows on space shuttle Endeavour's external fuel tank as workers remove the seal from the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate on the tank Wednesday June 24, 2009. A hydrogen leak at the location during tanking for the STS-127 mission caused the launch attempts to be scrubbed on June 13 and June 17. NASA plans a fueling test Wednesday July 1, 2009 of shuttle ahead of July 11 launch attempt.

NASA/The Associated Press

Last month, potentially dangerous leaks of hydrogen gas thwarted back-to-back launch attempts.

Early Wednesday morning, launch controllers filled the external fuel tank again to see if repairs plugged the leak. No abnormal leaks were detected during the three-hour test, and preliminary results indicated the repairs were successful, NASA spokeswoman Candrea Thomas said.

That means NASA can shoot for a launch attempt on July 11. Endeavour is set to deliver one last piece of a Japanese space station lab.

During two launch attempts in mid-June, significant amounts of hydrogen gas escaped from a plate on the fuel tank that attaches to a vent line. Engineers believe a slight misalignment of the plate a tilt of less than one degree was to blame. A different, softer type of seal and special washers were installed to correct the problem.

"We think we've got it licked," test director Steve Payne said as the tank was being filled.

Commander Mark Polansky, who monitored the test from Houston, also was pleased with the results. "So far, so good," he wrote in a Twitter update.

Polansky and his six crewmates will deliver and install the Japanese lab section at the international space station. They will spend nearly two weeks working with the six space station residents, making for the largest number of people together in orbit ever. The entire shuttle flight will last 16 days.

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