- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA finished fueling the space shuttle Endeavour on Sunday after delaying its scheduled liftoff for a day because lightning struck 11 times near the launch pad.

Endeavour had been scheduled to launch Saturday night, but a severe lightning storm at the pad Friday raised concerns that some critical systems might have been damaged. Overnight checks found no problems, however.

NASA also said there were no hydrogen leaks, which caused two launch delays in June.

The weather was looking better Sunday. NASA said there was only a 30 percent chance that weather would again delay Sunday’s 7:13 p.m. launch.

The shuttle and its crew are set to deliver the third and final piece of Japan’s $1 billion space station lab, named Kibo, which is Japanese for “hope.” The first two sections flew up last year.

Endeavour should have blasted off to the international space station in mid-June but was grounded by the hydrogen gas leaks. Repairs to a misaligned plate on the external fuel tank, which hooks up with a hydrogen vent line, solved the problem.

Seven shuttle astronauts plus six station residents will make for the biggest crowd ever in orbit.

Five spacewalks are planned during the 16-day flight.

NASA has until Tuesday or possibly Wednesday to send up Endeavour before making way for the launch of an unmanned Russian supply ship. After that, the shuttle flight would be off until late July.

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