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Sorry, Mom, no shuttle launch for you


At Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A, workers gain entrance to the space shuttle Endeavour's aft section as teams prepare to remove and replace a switchbox known as the aft load control assembly-2, or ALCA-2. The assembly is believed to have caused heaters on a fuel line for one of Endeavour's auxiliary power units to fail during Friday's countdown.

NASA is ruling out any chance of a Mother's Day launch for the shuttle Endeavour, saying that it will take until at least May 10 to resolve a heater glitch and get the spaceship ready for its last flight.

Just a day ago, mission managers said the launch wouldn't happen before May 8, which is Mother's Day. Today, they took a fresh look at the schedule and said they'd need even more time to test the switchbox and wiring in one of Endeavour's auxiliary power units.

A problem with the wiring, which involves a heater for the shuttle's hydraulic system, forced NASA's managers to call off the countdown for a launch on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of visitors, including President Barack Obama and his family, were hoping to see the shuttle program's second-to-last liftoff.

Here's today's mission status update:

"NASA space shuttle and International Space Station managers met Monday and determined that Tuesday, May 10, is the earliest Endeavour could be launched on the STS-134 mission. That date is success-oriented based on preliminary schedules to replace a faulty Load Control Assembly (LCA) box in the orbiter's aft compartment.

"Plans are for managers to reconvene Friday to determine a more definite launch date after the box is removed and replaced and the retest of systems has been completed.

"Space Shuttle Program managers adjusted the date after further evaluating the schedules to change out the box and retest the nine shuttle systems associated with the controller. That work would be followed by the standard closeout of the aft compartment before proceeding into the launch countdown.

"Sunday night and Monday, technicians at NASA's Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A conducted additional testing of systems associated with LCA-2, including testing the box itself, which is expected to be removed late Monday or early Tuesday and replaced with an existing spare.

"Managers will continue to evaluate the repair process and make any additional adjustments before scheduling Endeavour’s next launch attempt for its STS-134 mission to the International Space Station.

"The STS-134 crew is back in Houston and remains in quarantine throughout as it slowly adjusts its wake and sleep schedule to match the new launch time. While at NASA's Johnson Space Center, the crew will conduct a launch and landing simulation with its ascent and entry flight control team based in Mission Control, before returning to Florida for the launch countdown."

Endeavour is due to bring up a $2 million particle-physics experiment, a storage platform and tons of other supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. One of the big draws for this mission is the fact that the commander, Mark Kelly, is married to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was wounded in the head during an assassination attempt in January that left six dead and nine others injured. Giffords has made a heroic recovery at a Houston rehabilitation center, flew to Florida for last week's unsuccessful launch try and is vowing to return for the next attempt.

Here's how one of Endeavour's crew members, Mike Fincke, reacted to today's news via Twitter:

"Now we are no earlier than Tuesday, May 10, for our launch. No worries — we have plenty to study and the teams at the Cape are awesome."

Twitter is becoming the favored mode of public communication for the astronauts. During the countdown, the tweetstream was the best way to keep up with Endeavour's crew members, and that continues to be the case during their down time in Houston. Here's what Endeavour pilot Greg Johnson has been saying on Twitter today:

"Enjoyed an 18-hour reprieve in Houston spending an evening at home. Now we're back in quarantine ... reminds me of the movie 'Groundhog Day.'"

"I plan to tweet from space. Although tweets might not hit the Internet immediately, they will be transmitted within a few hours."

Perhaps one reason why Twitter is getting so much attention is the buzz that surrounded the NASA Tweetup crowd over the past week.  The space agency selected 150 tweeters to get credentialed for the Endeavour launch, including actors LeVar Burton and Seth Green as well as our own Tricia McKinney, a producer for "The Rachel Maddow Show." Some of the Tweetup participants will have to pass up the next launch opportunity due to their workaday life, but a fair number are vowing to come back, whenever NASA decides to try again. Here's an assessment from Carson Skinner:

"It seems that #NASATweetup majority is hoping for a longer delay in order to make arrangements for a return to KSC. #SilverLinings"

Frankly, I'm feeling the same way. I'm leaving the Space Coast on Tuesday and don't know when I'll be back. But NASA has to take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves. If the launch is delayed much past the 10th, that will stretch out the time frame for the shuttle program's final launch, currently due to be taken on by Atlantis on June 28. And if there's anything worse than missing Mother's Day, it's showing up late for your own farewell party.

More from Cape Canaveral:

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