Weather leaves NASA's Endeavour launch up in the air -- again

Fifth space shuttle countdown now underway, with liftoff set for later this evening

Weather once again could be a stumbling block for NASA today as it tries for a fifth time to launch the space shuttle Endeavour from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

NASA had to abort planned launches on both Saturday and Sunday as bad weather moved across Florida. On Saturday, NASA also had to check for possible damage to the shuttle's onboard systems after dramatic lightning strikes hit near Endeavour on Friday.

NASA is once again in countdown operations today, with an expected liftoff at 6:51 p.m. Eastern time today.

However, bad weather may hinder operations once again. Weather forecasts are calling for thunderstorms over Cape Canaveral between 7 p.m. today and Tuesday afternoon.

The first two scheduled Endeavour launches, which had been set for June, were scrubbed because of gaseous hydrogen leaks in an outer tank. NASA announced earlier this month that the leaks had been repaired and that the shuttle was ready for liftoff for its mission to the International Space Station.

Endeavour's crew is looking 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.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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