Monday, March 14, 2011

NASA Gears Up For Endeavour Engine Tests

NASA aims to put Endeavour's main engines through a flight readiness test today, work that would keep the agency on track for a scheduled mid-April launch of the orbiter's 25th and final flight.

Now poised on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Endeavour and six astronauts are slated to blast off at 7:48 p.m. April 19 on a mission to deliver a large cosmic ray detector to the International Space Station. The particle physics experiment package is designed to give scientists a better understanding of the origins and evolution of the universe.

The engine test involves flowing gaseous helium through the shuttle's main propulsion system and engines in an attempt to detect any leaks. Engine valves are cycled just as they will be on launch day.

The test follows a busy weekend in which technicians continued post-rollout launch-pad validations and did prep work in advance of the hazardous loading of toxic rocket propellants into tanks that feed Endeavour's twin orbital maneuvering engines and its 44 nose-and-tail steering jets.

Endeavour's crew is led by veteran NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D. Ariz., who was critically wounded in a Jan. 8 assassination attempt that killed six people and injured more than a dozen in Tucson.

NASA and a Houston rehabilitation hospital are making advance preparations to transport and host Giffords at KSC on launch day if her condition by then is good enough that she could travel.

The crew also includes pilot Gregory "Box" Johnson and four missions specialists: Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Fuestel, Michael Fincke and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the NASA image of Endeavour at the launch pad as the sun rose over the Space Coast after the orbiter's rollout for its 25th and final flight. You can also click the enlarged view to get an even larger, more detailed view. Photo credit: Jack Pfaller/NASA.

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