CAPE CANAVERAL - Theplanned Sept. 27 launch of the next International Space Station crew might bepushed back to create an opportunity for a shuttle mission in September.
NASA intends to launch itsfirst two post-Columbia missions during daylight and when the shuttle'sexternal tank will be jettisoned on the sunlit side of Earth. The idea is toget sharp pictures of the tank to make sure post-Columbia safety changes work.
The self-imposedconstraints limit shuttle launch opportunities to relatively short windows ofopportunity, one of which extends from Sept. 9 to Sept. 24.
Station flight rules callfor a visiting shuttle to depart at least three days before a Soyuz launch sothat station tenants can prepare for the arrival of the Russian crew transport.
With the Soyuz launch plannedfor Sept. 27, NASA would have to launch its second post-Columbia fight betweenSept. 9 and Sept. 13 to complete the 12-day mission and depart the station 72hours ahead of the Soyuz launch.
The Russian Federal SpaceAgency is thinking about delaying the Soyuz launch, said Rob Navias, a spokesman for Johnson Space Center in Houston.Doing so would open up shuttle launch opportunities during the entire Sept. 9to Sept. 24 window.
A decision is expected inthe next several weeks.
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