For space shuttle Endeavour, it's fill 'er time

Shuttle managers are aiming for 7:13 P.M. EDT launch today after the mission endured the fourth delay in a month. This time around, it was for weather. But last month, a hydrogen leak on the external fuel tank prompted two postponements and a longer time-out for repairs.
One big reason to play it safe. A lightning bolt drops down onto a tower that's part of the shuttle's lightning protection system. The bolt hit at 6:23 P.M. on Friday during a bout of severe weather on the area.

Technicians are fueling the space shuttle Endeavour after a one-day delay to make sure nearby lightning strikes on Friday hadn't affected critical systems on the orbiter and its twin solid-fuel boosters.

During a severe storm on Friday afternoon, sensors recorded 11 lightning strikes within 0.3 nautical miles of the pad. Seven of those strikes hit the pad's lightning-protection system.

The system "did what it was designed to do," noted space shuttle payload integration manager Mike Moses, who also heads the mission-management team, during a briefing on Saturday. But, he added, engineers needed time to ensure that voltage spikes the lightning induced didn't fry on-board computers and sensitive electronics on the boosters.

An added benefit: Weather for today's scheduled launch at 7:13 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time stands only a 30 percent chance of violating launch requirements. On Friday, forecasters had predicted that conditions during the original launch time, 7:39 P.M. yesterday, stood only a 40 percent chance of meeting launch requirements.

During the 16-day mission the orbiter and its seven-member crew will spend 12 days at the space station to install the last major portion of Japan's laboratory module and perform a variety of maintenance tasks on the station. It's going to get quite chummy: During Endeavour's stay, the space station's population will expand from six to 13.

One of Endeavour's crew members, Timothy Kopra, will remain aboard the station as part of the normal crew-rotation process. Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who has served at the orbiting outpost since March, will return with the shuttle.

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