Glitch means further delay for Endeavour

WASHINGTON - NASA officials on Friday again postponed the final flight of the shuttle Endeavour, until May 16 at the earliest. 

The reason: a nagging electrical problem that engineers worry could lead to a major malfunction when the orbiter tries to land after its last trip to the International Space Station

Technicians discovered the glitch last week just hours before Endeavour's scheduled April 29 takeoff. President Obama and his family had flown to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch, along with wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.), whose husband, Mark Kelly, is Endeavour's commander. Giffords' staff said she would return for the rescheduled launch.

Since the original launch was scrubbed, NASA has repeatedly postponed setting a new date as engineers work to fix the problem, which they suspect lies with an electrical switch box that connects several systems. 

Among those systems: heaters that prevent fuel lines from freezing while the orbiter is in space. These lines help power the hydraulics system that runs essential functions, such as the landing gear. A failure in the heater circuit initially tipped NASA to the problem. 

Space center workers have installed a new electrical switch box, which is working fine, but the engineers are still trying to understand what caused the failure. 

NASA on Friday also extended Endeavour's planned mission to 16 days, from 14.
After it launches, NASA will have just one mission left in the 30-year-old shuttle program: a planned June 28 launch of Atlantis to deliver spare parts to the station. It's not clear what effect Endeavour's launch delay will have on that final flight.

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