Fuel Tank for Final Space Shuttle Mission Arrives at Launch Site
The external fuel tank for the space shuttle's last scheduled mission was carried from the Pegasus barge into the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010.
Credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

The external fuel tank for what could be the last mission of NASA's space shuttle program rolled into an assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida yesterday (Sept. 28).

Technicians at Kennedy will now process and stack the tank in preparation for the launch of the shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station on Feb. 26, 2011, NASA officials said.

The tank is about 154 feet (47 meters) long and 28 feet (8.5 meters) wide and  weighs nearly 60,000 pounds (27,273 kilograms) when empty. It arrived in Florida Monday from a NASA facility in New Orleans.

When full, the tank will contain liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, which will power Endeavour's engines during liftoff and ascent. The tank will be flanked by twin solid rocket boosters strapped to the orbiter's sides, which will also help carry the shuttle aloft.

The tank and boosters will be jettisoned and fall back to Earth after Endeavour's initial push to the sky. Unlike the boosters, however, the external tank will not be collected and reused.

Endeavour is slated to deliver a nearly $2 billion astrophysics experiment designed to study cosmic rays from the space station. The STS-134 mission will also deposit some spare parts for the outpost.

Endeavour's flight is the last scheduled shuttle mission and one of only two remaining on the docket.

Congress, however, is discussing the possibility of an extra mission, to be flown by the shuttle Atlantis sometime next year. The Senate has approved the additional flight, but the measure has yet to make it through the House.

The shuttle Discovery is scheduled to lift off Nov. 1 on an 11-day mission to the space station.

Discovery is expected to deliver a storage room to the space station, along with a humanoid robot assistant for the outpost's astronaut crew.