NASA: Shuttle carrying humanoid robot delayed

Pair of leaks force NASA to push back Discovery launch until Tuesday, Nov. 2

A pair of gas leaks has forced the final launch of NASA's space shuttle Discovery to be delayed by a day.

The shuttle, which will be carrying six NASA astronauts and a humanoid robot, to the International Space Station, is now scheduled to lift off on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 4:17 p.m. EDT.

Discovery was initially slated to take off on Monday.

Members of NASA's launch team found two leaking helium and nitrogen seals on a pressurization portion of the shuttle, according to the space agency. NASA Test Director Jeff Spaulding said in a press conference this morning that repairing the leaks will take at least a day.

Spaulding also noted that the two leaks now being repaired are not related to a fuel leak that was repaired last week.

This is the final planned flight for Discovery as NASA prepares to retire its fleet of space shuttle crafts.

On this, its last flight, Discovery will carry aloft a Permanent Multipurpose Module, which holds supplies, spare parts, experiments and the humanoid robot. The module will be attached to the outside of the space station and will remain there after Discovery returns to Earth.

The 300-pound robot, dubbed Robonaut 2 or R2, is set to become a permanent resident aboard the space station.

Jointly developed by NASA and General Motors, Robonaut is made up of helmeted head, a torso, two arms, two hands, and wheels to transport itself. The robot's hands are designed to mimic human hands so it can use tools already aboard the station for use by the astronauts there.

Initially, the robot will be relegated to a confined space inside the space station, but NASA hopes that it eventually will be upgraded so it can work throughout the space station, as well as assist astronauts on space walks.

John Olson, director of NASA's Exploration Systems Integration Office, said in an earlier statement that Robonaut is a step in the "quickening pace between human and robotic exploration of space."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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