NASA to attempt space shuttle launch today

 
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla, Sep 8 (Reuters) NASA managers decided to attempt to launch the space shuttle Atlantis today despite a problem with a power generator on the spacecraft, a NASA official said.

''There's more data that has to come in but right now the plan is to make a launch attempt today,'' NASA press secretary Dean Acosta said.

The US space agency had planned to launch Atlantis on Wednesday on the first construction mission to the International Space Station since the 2003 Columbia disaster, but the discovery of a glitch in a fuel cell that makes electricity forced managers to delay the launch.

Launch time today is 11:41 am (2111 hrs IST).

The power problem, a voltage spike in one of the three fuel cells on the shuttle, was found shortly before the shuttle was to be loaded with a half-million gallons of propellants for launch on Wednesday.

The 250-pound (113-kg) units combine oxygen and hydrogen to produce electricity for the shuttle's systems and water that is used for cooling and for the crew to drink.

Atlantis' crew is to deliver and install a 372 million dollar solar power module to the space station. NASA needs to launch by Friday to assure there is time for the complex assembly and to have an extra day in case any problems arise.

If NASA misses this week's launch window, the next opportunity for Atlantis to fly would be October. 26.

Construction of the 100 billion dollar space station has been on hold since shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas more than 3 1/2 years ago, killing all seven astronauts on board.

NASA has just four years to finish building the orbital complex before the space shuttles are retired. The station's structural trusses, modules and other major components were designed to be launched only on the shuttles.

Managers had planned to launch Atlantis and its six-member crew last week, but a lightning strike and a storm triggered a series of postponements. The mission already had been delayed more than three years while NASA recovered from the Columbia disaster.

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