NASA: Weather clouds Endeavour's 3rd launch attempt Saturday

After two previously scrubbed liftoffs, NASA looks to get started on space station mission

Despite forecasts of inclement weather, NASA today said that it is moving ahead with preparations to launch the space shuttle Endeavour Saturday evening.

Tomorrow marks the third scheduled launch for Endeavour and its seven-member crew. The first two scheduled launches last month were scrubbed by NASA because of gaseous hydrogen leaks in an outer tank. NASA announced earlier this month that the leaks had been repaired and that the shuttle is ready for liftoff.

NASA noted in an online report today that the latest scheduled launch has just a 40% chance of happening because showers, thunderstorms and cloud cover are expected. Nonetheless, NASA said prelaunch work is continuing on schedule.

If all goes as planned, the Endeavour is expected to blast off at 7:39 p.m. on Saturday.

Endeavour's crew is prepared to conduct a 16-day mission to expand the Japanese laboratory housed on the International Space Station. NASA has called the operation one of its most technical missions yet, one that will call on the power of three separate robots.

The highly complex mission will include five spacewalks, the use of three robotic arms -- two working together and one that will "walk" across the outside of the space station.

Holly Ridings, lead space station flight director for the Endeavour mission, said in a previous interview that the mission's goals couldn't be attained without the use of NASA's robotics technology.

"The length of the mission, the five spacewalks, the robotics used almost every single day and 13 crew members makes it a big puzzle, and all those pieces need to fit together correctly to get everything done," said Ridings, adding that NASA space missions will become increasingly dependent on robots.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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