Friday, May 2, 2008

Atlantis mission to Hubble delayed into fall

AFP - The space shuttle Atlantis and her pending final mission, and a final mission, by popular demand, to perform maintenance and repair on the Hubble Space Telescope previously set for August 28 has been pushed back four to five weeks, NASA said Thursday.

Continuing troubles with newly-designed External Tank deliveries finally caught up with flight planners, affecting the schedule of the eight remaining Shuttle flights until the three vehicle fleet is retired in 2010.

"Right now Hubble's mission is scheduled for August 28; we really cannot make that date with the external tank processing," shuttle program manager John Shannon explained at a press conference Thursday.

"The changes we have made adds about four to five weeks of processing time on those two tanks," he said.

The shuttle's mission to Hubble -- orbiting at 600 kilometers -- is unusual because post-Columbia safety protocols require a second shuttle on the pad and ready for launch nearby. Two external tanks have to be prepared, which makes production and delivery difficulties more problematic.

In case of a major problem with the Hubble mission the shuttle and its crew of seven cannot head to dock at the International Space Station (ISS). So a second shuttle needs to be at the ready, to be launched in case of emergency.

"I would expect that sometime this month we will come forward and not just have the Hubble mission date ... but really some pretty good numbers for the next six to ten flights," Shannon said.
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