Shuttle Launch Delay: What Happened and What’s Next

The launch of NASA’s space shuttle Discovery is back on hold due to a leak discovered in the shuttle’s gaseous hydrogen vent. As of now, the earliest possible next launch attempt is set to take place on Sunday.

Shuttle Hydrogen Leak

The shuttle was originally set to launch at 9:20 p.m. EDT Wednesday. The weather was good and everything looked to be a go until engineers saw explosive hydrogen gas coming out of the main fuel tank. Such a leak could have potentially sparked an explosion had the shuttle lifted off as planned.

Shuttle Timeline Now

If NASA is able to find the source of the leak and repair it, Discovery will lift off at 6:43 p.m. Sunday. The launch could likely be pushed back to Monday or Tuesday, however. If Discovery is not ready to leave by Tuesday, the mission will have to be delayed until April 7 due to a Russian Soyuz capsule launch already scheduled.

NASA officials say the space shuttle Discovery’s mission may be cut short because of the timing changes. If a Sunday launch occurs, the mission will last 11 days instead of 14. At least one of the planned four spacewalks is expected to be cancelled as well. By Monday, the trip will be cut down to 10 days with only one to two walks, and for Tuesday, the mission will be shortened to nine days with a single spacewalk.

You can read more about the plans for the mission and see a live stream of NASA’s latest efforts at the Kennedy Space Center at our Shuttle Launch Live 2009 page.