Cape Canaveral, US: The launch of the US space shuttle Discovery was postponed just hours before liftoff after Nasa engineers found a gas leak in the filling system for its external tank.
Nasa spokesman Allard Beutel said the shuttle’s mission towards the International Space Station, with a Japanese astronaut among its seven crew, was delayed for at least 24 hours after the leak of highly flammable hydrogen gas was discovered.
“The launch was scrubbed at 1837 GMT for at least 24 hours ... so we won’t launch tonight,” Beutel said.
It was yet another frustrating delay for the Discovery and its crew which have already seen the launch put back four times from its original date of 12 February.
Nasa engineers discovered the leak soon after they began filling the Discovery’s external tank at noon (1600 GMT), and the hitch came just hours before the planned 0120 Thursday GMT launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The leak was found to be coming from a valve regulating the hydrogen pressure which is located inside the tank towards the top, Bill Johnson, communications director, said.
Nasa officials were to meet around 2100 GMT Wednesday to decide on their next move.