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NASA delays Orion launch due to weather and miscues

NASA on Thursday (Dec. 4) delayed the launch of the inaugural test flight of the Orion spaceship until Friday morning. A number of delays and a technical glitch that could not be fixed within the two-and-half hour window were cited as the reasons to scrap the attempt to launch the craft, which is billed as the vehicle that will one day take astronauts to Mars.

Orion was slated to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a Delta IV rocket at 7:05 a.m. EST, orbit the Earth twice and land in the Pacific Coast off the coast of Baja California around 11:29 p.m. EST. But, the launch was delayed to 7:17 a.m. when a boat was observed in restricted waters near the site. Shortly after that, wind speeds picked up above the 24 mph limit and the mission control delayed the launch again.

With a second delay due to high winds pushing the launch back yet again, to 8:55 a.m., controllers discovered “that valves controlling the flow of liquid hydrogen into and out of tanks in two of the rocket’s trio of boosters failed to closely properly” ahead of launch, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

The technicians set out to fix the valve problem ahead of the last possible launch time for the day – 9:44 a.m. – but with 10 minutes left decided to try again the following morning. The valve issue has happened before with Delta IV “heavy” rockets and the delay gave engineers time to review data.

After ending the space shuttle program, NASA subcontracted Orion’s launch to United Launch Alliance, an partnership combining staff from rival aerospace companies Lockheed Martin – which built Orion – and Boeing. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. said the success of Orion’s test flight could symbolize “Day One, the beginning of the Mars era.”