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SOURCE OF SHUTTLE LEAK FOUND?

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Engineers at Rockwell International in California may have located the source of a mysterious hydrogen leak that has grounded the space shuttle fleet, officials said Monday.

NASA spokesman Kyle Herring at the Johnson Space Center in Houston said that tests on Sunday found hydrogen pouring from plumbing attachments that had been removed from the space shuttle Columbia.It was not immediately clear howlong it would take to fix the leak and resume flights with the three-vehicle space shuttle fleet.

"How big the leak rate is they don't know yet," Herring said. He also said that the precise part of the maze of seals and valves that is leaking has not been found.

"They did get some sort of leak. It's on the orbiter side," he said. The winged spacecraft that carries the astronauts is called an orbiter.

Rockwell was testing an apparatus called the umbilical. This is a group of pipes and valves that links the orbiter with the external tank, the large orange tank that holds the rocket propellant for the shuttle's main rocket engines during launch.

NASA discovered a leak somewhere in the umbilical plumbing in May when Columbia's external tank was being loaded with rocket propellant. The source of the leak could not be found and NASA rolled Columbia back to the hanger and dismantled the umbilical. It was sent to Rockwell for testing.

Engineers found a leak on the space shuttle Atlantis that was similar to the one on Columbia. NASA space flight chief William Lenoir ordered the space shuttle fleet grounded until the source of the leaks could be found and fixed.