NASAmanagers decided Friday to officially aim for a Feb. 7 launch of the shuttleAtlantis and delay another flight to mid-March as engineers work to replace anelectrical connector on the orbiter?s fuel tank.
The launchtarget will allow time to install and test the new connector and avoidschedule conflicts with other spacecraft that, like Atlantis, are bound for theInternational Space Station (ISS), NASA officials said in a statement.
Atlantisand its STS-122 astronaut crew are now scheduled to launch at 2:47 p.m. EST(1947 GMT) on Feb. 7, two months late, on a planned 11-daymission to deliver the European Space Agency?s (ESA) Columbus laboratory tothe ISS.
The spaceflighthas been delayedsince early December by fuel sensor glitches, which engineers traced backto a suspect electrical connector at the bottom of Atlantis? external tank. Engineersare expected to complete the installation of a replacement connector onSaturday, NASA officials said.
NASA alsopushed back the planned Feb. 14 launch of the shuttle Endeavour to mid-March.That mission, STS-123, will deliver a robotic arm addition and the firstsegment of Japan?s Kibo laboratory to the ISS.
The newshuttle launch dates, as well as a decision by Russia?s Federal Space Agency tomove the launch of an ISS-bound unmanned Progress cargo ship up two days toFeb. 5, were tailored to suit the work schedules of the space station?s currentExpedition 16 crew, NASA officials said.
In additionto a spacewalkrepair of starboard solar wing motor slated for later this month, thestation?s three-person crew is also gearing up for the arrival of the Europeancargo ship Jules Verne. Built for the ESA, Jules Verneis the first of a series of Automated Transfer Vehicles that designed to haulfresh supplies to astronauts aboard the ISS.
Atlantis?STS-122 mission will mark the first of five scheduled shuttle flights slated tolaunch this year. The shuttle Discovery is scheduled for an April launch todeliver second element of the station?s Kibo lab.
A plannedAugust mission, also aboard Atlantis, is aimed at overhauling the Hubble SpaceTelescope while a September flight of Endeavour will haul fresh supplies to theISS.
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