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Discovery will attempt final launch Thursday

Associated Press / February 19, 2011

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA will try next week to launch space shuttle Discovery on its final voyage, following a four-month delay for fuel tank repairs.

Liftoff is set for late Thursday afternoon. Senior managers voted unanimously yesterday on the launch date after discussing the fixes made since the shuttle’s grounding in early November. Cracks in the external fuel tank were discovered after a launch attempt was foiled by leaking hydrogen gas. It’s taken this long to understand and repair the cracking, which could have harmed the shuttle during liftoff.

The shuttle will carry six astronauts and a humanoid robot, along with a full load of supplies, to the International Space Station.

NASA opted for a liftoff at 4:50 p.m., even though a European cargo vessel will be docking at the space station that morning. Officials normally prefer more time between arriving spacecraft, but they want to get Discovery flying as soon as possible given its lengthy delay.

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