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Shuttle Endeavour preparing for launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA fueled shuttle Endeavour for an early morning launch in darkness Sunday with the last major pieces of the International Space Station.

Stiff wind rattled the launch site Saturday night as the fuel flowed into the shuttle, but forecasters were hopeful the gusts would subside in time for the 4:39 a.m. liftoff. The odds of good weather were 80 percent.

Technicians had to adjust the flow of air into the crew cabin before fueling could begin. That made fueling a half-hour late but was not going to affect the launch time.

Endeavour is loaded with a new room for the space station, as well as an observation deck. Once both of those are installed, the orbiting complex will be 98 percent complete.

The six astronauts assigned to the mission slept all afternoon to prepare for the graveyard shift during the 13-day flight.

It was expected to be the last shuttle launch in darkness.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden reminded journalists on the eve of the launch that there are only five shuttle missions left. "You're going to have to figure out what else you're going to do, along with us," he said.

In an hourlong news conference, Bolden accepted the blame for the way the NASA work force was informed of President Barack Obama's plans to dismantle the Constellation moon exploration program. In the proposed budget that was released Monday, Obama set NASA on a new post-shuttle path. Specifics were lacking, but the moon was no longer at the forefront. Neither were the Ares rockets that NASA had been working on for so long. Shuttle managers on Friday used the words "shock" and "angst" to describe their colleagues' mood.

"Why wasn't the NASA work force better prepared for this?" Bolden said. "You're looking at the guy who's responsible. I will take the heat."

Bolden, a former shuttle commander, said he did not listen to his advisers on how to present the information and has spent the past few days apologizing to everyone. "I was stupid, I admit that. I didn't do it right," he said.

As for the future, Bolden said the country needs a big rocketship to carry heavy loads if astronauts are to venture beyond Earth's orbit. He said he wants to use the lessons of Constellation to capture new technologies and build that rocket.

"While we will phase out the Constellation program per se, I don't want to throw away the baby with the bath water," he said.

Bolden said he envisions such a rocket — capable of carrying astronauts to the moon, Mars or asteroids — ready to fly sometime between 2020 and 2030. He personally favors Mars.

Whatever the destination or rocket, the new way forward will be "significantly better than what we got rid of," Bolden said