NASA has pushed back the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour again – to no earlier than May 10 – after mission managers determined that ground teams will need more time to complete repairs to one of the orbiter's power systems.
Top agency officials met today (May 2) and decided that Tuesday, May 10, will be the earliest opportunity to launch Endeavour on its final mission to the International Space Station. This date, however, depends on the success of complicated testing and repairs to a component called the auxiliary power unit, which is located in the shuttle's rear, or aft section. [Photos: Shuttle Endeavour's Final Voyage]
NASA called off its original launch attempt on April 29 when an issue was detected with the auxiliary power unit.
The agency was originally targeting May 8 as the next earliest launch opportunity, but shuttle program managers adjusted the date today after further evaluating the time needed to remove and test a faulty component in the orbiter's aft compartment. Agency officials will continue to evaluate the progress of repairs this week and will make adjustments as needed.
If NASA officially sets May 10 as Endeavour's launch day, liftoff will occur at 11:21 a.m. EDT (1521 GMT).
Endeavour's veteran crew
With Endeavour's liftoff delayed by over a week, the astronauts who will fly the orbiter on its final mission have returned to Houston to resume training until their scheduled launch.
Endeavour's six astronauts flew back home to Houston yesterday, said Mike Moses, chair of the shuttle's mission management team, in a press briefing held yesterday (May 1). The STS-134 crewmembers will remain in medical quarantine, Moses said, which is standard practice for spaceflyers to help prevent illness.
"The purpose is to stay away from any contagious illnesses that would take a few days to show up and manifest," Moses said. "The crew reports to a quarantine facility that is on-site at Johnson Space Center – astronaut crew quarters."
This week, the STS-134 astronauts -- commander Mark Kelly, pilot Gregory Johnson, and mission specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and Roberto Vittori -- will practice different procedures in the various shuttle simulators at Johnson Space Center.
"It's just refresher training," NASA spokesperson Kylie Clem told SPACE.com. "They'll be doing another simulation with their ascent and entry with flight control teams, but it's a light schedule."
And while the delay gives the spaceflyers some extra free time, the crew tends to use it to study up for the mission ahead, NASA officials said. [Gallery: Space Shuttle Endeavour Construction Photos]
"The crews are unbelievably dedicated," Moses said. "They don't do anything in their free time other than study their checklists and practice their procedures. They put their time in to be ready to go, that's for sure."
Endeavour is slated to fly its final mission to the International Space Station for a two-week trip to deliver a $2 billion particle detector aimed to study dark matter and other mysteries of the universe. The shuttle and its crew will also haul a platform packed with spare parts for the orbiting laboratory. Four spacewalks are planned.
After Endeavour's flight, NASA has one more space shuttle mission planned before the end of the program: the June 28 launch of shuttle Atlantis.