Monday, February 8, 2010

NASA fuels Space Shuttle 2nd time

Updated on : Monday, February 8, 2010

CAPE CANAVERAL: With the weather prospects looking up, astronauts boarded shuttle Endeavour for the second day in a row early Monday in hopes of blasting off on the last big space station construction mission.

The six astronauts looked more optimistic than they did Sunday morning, when the launch site was socked in with clouds. They waved to the crowds and made A-OK gestures with their fingers.

"Welcome aboard," launch controllers told commander George Zamka as he strapped in.

Liftoff was scheduled for 4:14 a.m. Monday. Aboard Endeavour were a new room and observation deck for the International Space Station.

NASA began fueling Endeavour on Sunday evening just as the Super Bowl was kicking off to the south in Miami. Launch director Mike Leinbach told his controllers to be at their computers, ready to support the launch, football or not. He said there would be no distractions in the firing room, scene of all the shuttle monitoring.

Sunday morning's try was spoiled by thick, low clouds. The clouds returned briefly Sunday night, but forecasters said it looked more favorable than the previous night and they put the odds of acceptable conditions at 60 percent.

It was the last scheduled night launch for the space shuttle program, winding down after nearly 30 years. After this one, just four flights remain. The astronauts will work the overnight shift during the two-week mission.

If Endeavour does not make it off the ground Monday, NASA officials said they would probably not try again Tuesday, given the exhausting middle-of-the-night schedule. An unmanned rocket with a solar observatory would have a chance to fly next, on Wednesday, and the shuttle would get in line behind that, later in the week.

"That's space 'biz!" space station commander Jeffrey Williams said in a Twitter update live from orbit. "We on ISS now have some extra prep time."

Endeavour is loaded with two major payloads: the Tranquility living quarters and a seven-windowed dome that will give space station residents sweeping 360-degree views of their orbital home, as well as Earth and outer space.

Both compartments are courtesy of the European Space Agency. They're worth more than $400 million.

The space station will be 98 percent complete once Tranquility and the dome are installed. The Endeavour crew will conduct three spacewalks to hook up everything.

As for the Super Bowl that unfolded 200 miles south of Kennedy Space Center, the coin used in the opening toss flew on the last shuttle mission, in November. A former wide receiver, Leland Melvin, was on that flight. He was picked by the Detroit Lions in the NFL draft in 1986, but injured his hamstring and went on - famously - to science and space-flying careers.

No, the shuttle crew did not watch the Super Bowl, NASA's launch commentator said. But the game was beamed up to the space station in case the five men there wanted to see it.

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