NASA Delays Shuttle Mission to Hubble
Space Shuttle Atlantis will launch no sooner than Oct. 14 for the long-awaited STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. It had been slated to launch on Oct. 10.
The following mission of the shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station (STS-126) will also move from Nov. 12 to Nov. 16 at the earliest. The changes come as a result of Hurricane Ike closing down NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, for a week.
Hurricane Ike forced NASA to evacuate JSC on Sept. 11, although the facility reopened 11 days later. The storm caused some minor roof damage at JSC and postponed the docking of a Russian cargo ship at the space station.
"The crew was set back on training, and there was a couple days slip getting the payload to the pad," said John Yembrick, a NASA spokesperson at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. He described the delay as a "waterfall effect of all these things coming together."
Perhaps more critically, the closure kept the Atlantis crew from practicing a pair of simulations and spacewalk rehearsals at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.
Shuttle commander Scott Altman told reporters earlier that missing seven days of training had raised the question of either pushing back the launch date or cutting out mission events. However, vehicle processing of the shuttles continues on schedule at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The Atlantis crew has a full schedule of five back-to-back spacewalks during an 11-day mission to upgrade and repair Hubble for the fifth and final time. All seven astronauts completed a three-day prelaunch training marathon that ends with a full-countdown dress rehearsal aboard the space shuttle
Shuttle Endeavour is standing by for launch in the unlikely event that Atlantis runs into trouble and happens to require a rescue mission. Both the astronauts and NASA officials have emphasized the move as precautionary, because Atlantis must fly to a higher and different orbit beyond the space station.
Further delays down the road could push Endeavour's following STS-126 mission to next year, because of a window lasting from November 26 to December 17 when the shuttle cannot launch to the space station. But NASA remains optimistic about squeezing in five flights in 2008.
"We're confident we'll get both shuttles off this year," Yembrick told SPACE.com.
More details on the delay are expected at a Friday news conference on Oct. 3, after NASA completes its Flight Readiness Review for the STS-125 mission.
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