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NASA Postpones Space Shuttle Launch After Equipment Failure

NASA(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- On Friday, NASA postponed the final launch of the space shuttle Endeavour for at least 72 hours to investigate the failure of a key piece of technical equipment.

The space agency said the heater on one of Endeavour's three Auxiliary Power Units -- a device which powers the shuttle's speed brakes, elevons and landing gear -- malfunctioned as the astronauts were getting ready to board for liftoff. The shuttle would not be able to land safely without three healthy APUs.

Technicians will now drain the external fuel tank, go into the bottom of the shuttle and diagnose the problem.

The six astronauts, including Navy Capt. Mark Kelly who commands the mission, were dressed in their orange jumpsuits and headed to the launch pad when the announcement was made. The launch had been set for 3:47 p.m. ET.

The 14-day mission into space will be the last for the space shuttle Endeavour, and could yield new clues to the origin of the universe.

Endeavour's launch has drawn widespread attention because it's the second-to-last for the U.S. space shuttle program, and it's commanded by the husband of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during a shooting rampage in Tucson in January. Six people were killed and 13, including Giffords, were injured.

Despite her wounds, Giffords travelled to the Kennedy Space Center from her Houston hospital Wednesday. NASA said she would watch the launch in private. It's unclear whether Giffords will now remain in Florida.

The White House said President Obama and the first family would also be there, marking only the third time a sitting president has witnessed a shuttle launch.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio