Top NASA officials are meeting today (April 19) to decide on an official launch date for the space shuttle Endeavour's final mission later this month.
During the day-long meeting, called the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) session, managers are discussing any issues that might affect the shuttle's liftoff date. NASA has been targeting April 29 for the launch, but will decide today whether or not to stick to that goal. [Photos: Shuttle Endeavour's Final Mission]
Endeavour is slated to blast off with six astronauts bound for the International Space Station to deliver a $2 billion particle physics experiment and a load of spare supplies. The mission will be commanded by astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who is recovering after being shot in January outside a Tucson grocery store.
The STS-134 mission, which will feature four spacewalks, will last 14 days. NASA had hoped to extend the flight by an extra day, but on Friday (April 15) elected to return the mission plan to its original 14-day schedule. Mission managers are reserving the option to extend the voyage by up to two days once Endeavour is in orbit. [FAQ: Inside Astronaut Mark Kelly's Shuttle Flight]
"Once Endeavour is in space, managers will evaluate the shuttle's performance and other mission objectives and then decide whether to add another day or two to the flight to support operations aboard the International Space Station," according to a NASA statement.
NASA plans to hold a press conference today following the Flight Readiness Review.
After Endeavour's mission, NASA plans only one more shuttle flight – the launch of shuttle Atlantis in June – before its three orbiters are retired for good.
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Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the Space.com team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.