Running behind schedule, engineers rigged the shuttle Atlantis for a make-or break fueling test Wednesday to prove the ship is leak-free and ready for launch around Nov. 10 on a long-delayed military mission.
NASA managers were confident the $2 billion space-plane would pass the critical test, setting the stage for blastoff at 6:47 p.m. around Nov. 10, more than four months after Atlantis was grounded by a tiny hydrogen leak during a fueling exercise June 29.That test was ordered after similar leaks grounded the shuttle Columbia the night before a planned May 30 launch on an astronomy mission. While Columbia remains grounded -- NANA plans yet another fueling test Monday -- engineers believe Atlantis is finally ready to fly.
To make sure, engineers planned to pump super-cold liquid hydrogen rock fuel through Atlantis's engine room and into its external tank Wednesday starting around 1 p.m., six hours late because of minor problems in completing last-minute work at the launch pad.
While the previous leak involved hydrogen, liquid oxygen also will be pumped through the system to make sure no oxygen lines were damaged when a 9-foot girder weighing 70 pounds fell through the engine room in an embarrassing accident earlier this month.