Although far from a full reprieve for NASA’s stalwart space shuttles, a need for more preparation time on the final two scheduled missions has seen the fleet’s imminent demise pushed back into 2011.
According to NASA officials, Endeavour’s final mission to the ISS, which will end the fleet’s long-running service as it delivers important scientific equipment to the orbiting station, has been bumped from November of 2010 to February 26 of 2011.
By way of explanation for its latest rounds of delays, the U.S. space administration has said yet more work is required on the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a particle physics detector, before it is deemed ready to be carried to the ISS by Endeavour.
The space shuttle Endeavour had initially been due to blast off with the $1.5 billion USD spectrometer in July of 2010, but slow preparation connected to the instrument meant its first flight opportunity was pushed back on the calendar to November.
The penultimate shuttle mission, which will involve Discovery embarking on a supply run to the International Space Station (ISS), has been also been pushed back from September 16, 2010, to November 1, 2010.
NASA is also proposing a final, final, final run to the ISS using the space shuttle Atlantis in June of 2011. While the proposed extra mission has not yet been addressed by the U.S. government – which holds the space program’s purse strings – NASA is hopeful of an answer by August.
News of the launch delays and possible extra mission might lessen the sting presently being felt by thousands of shuttle workers who will be laid off once NASA’s fleet is formally retired.