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NASA fuels up for 2nd try at shuttle launch

CAPE CANAVERAL — Despite more clouds on the horizon, NASA fueled Endeavour for the second straight night Sunday in hopes of sending the shuttle on the last big space station construction mission.

The launch team began pumping millions of gallons of fuel into Endeavour just as the Super Bowl was kicking off to the south in Miami. NASA’s launch director, Mike Leinbach, told his controllers to be at their computers, ready to support the launch, football or not. He said there would be no distractions in the firing room, scene of all the shuttle monitoring.

Endeavour and its crew of six were scheduled to blast off at 4:14 a.m. Monday with a new room and observation deck for the International Space Station.

Sunday morning’s try was spoiled by thick, low clouds. Although more of the same was hovering over the launch site late Sunday, forecasters went with a 60 percent chance of acceptable weather.

It was the last scheduled night launch for the space shuttle program, winding down after nearly 30 years. After this one, just four flights remain.

Commander George Zamka and his crew awoke after sleeping through the afternoon. They will work the overnight shift in orbit during their two-week mission.

If Endeavour does not make it off the ground Monday, NASA officials said they would probably not try again Tuesday, given the exhausting middle-of-the-night schedule. An unmanned rocket with a solar observatory would have a chance to fly next, on Wednesday, and the shuttle would get in line behind that, later in the week.

“That’s space ‘biz!” space station commander Jeffrey Williams said in a Twitter update live from orbit.

Endeavour is loaded with two major payloads: the Tranquility living quarters and a seven-windowed dome that will give space station residents sweeping 360-degree views of their orbital home, as well as Earth and outer space.

Both compartments are courtesy of the European Space Agency. They’re worth more than $400 million.

The space station will be 98 percent complete once Tranquility and the dome are installed. The Endeavour crew will conduct three spacewalks to hook up everything.

As for the Super Bowl unfolding 200 miles south of Kennedy Space Center, the coin used in the opening toss flew on the last shuttle mission, in November. A former wide receiver, Leland Melvin, was on that flight. He was picked by the Detroit Lions in the NFL draft in 1986, but injured his hamstring and went on — famously — to science and space-flying careers.

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