Space Shuttle Endeavour's launchpad struck by lightning delaying launch

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lightning strikes Endeavour's launchpad.
Image: NASA.

The launch of Endeavour has been delayed at least 24 hours after the shuttle's launchpad area was struck by lightning at least 11 times this afternoon. According to NASA, technicians are currently evaluating the incident, but so far there appears to be no major damage.

"Sensors indicated there were 11 lightning strikes within 0.35 miles, which is inside the launch pad's threshold," said a statement on NASA's website. "The Mission Management Team will meet at 8:00 a.m. (EDT) Sunday to evaluate the latest data," it added.

"We've seen nothing so far that shows anything affected any of the systems. We need to be 100 percent confident that we have a good system across the board," said chairman of the pre-launch Mission Management Team, Mike Moses. None of the strikes hit the external fuel tank or the rocket boosters, but "there were strikes to the lightning mast and water tower," added NASA. Two of the strikes were strong enough to trigger an evaluation by engineers just to make sure all of Endeavour's systems are ready for flight. Although early evaluations showed no problems, engineers wanted more time to make sure they have checked everything correctly.

A new launch date is set for Sunday evening at 7:13 p.m. (EDT). The shuttle was previously scheduled to lift off at 7:39 this evening after two previous delays in June which were caused by a hydrogen fuel leak.

The mission, STS-127, will feature five spacewalks and complete construction of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory. Astronauts will attach a platform to the outside of the Japanese module that will allow experiments to be exposed to space.