End in Sight: Final Space Shuttle Missions Slated
Space shuttle Discovery is purged - providing cool and humidified air conditioning to the payload bay and other cavities to remove any residual explosive or toxic fumes – while still on the runway.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA has set target launch dates for the eight space shuttle missions in 2009 and 2010 that are expected to be the fleet's last.

The pre-retirement schedule for the shuttle has 10 remaining flights, including missions already scheduled for Oct. 8 and Nov. 10 of this year.

The plan is to replace the shuttle fleet with the Orion craft, which is being built and tested now.

But first, seven assembly flights are slated to complete construction on the International Space Station, with an additional two contingency flights planned for completion before the end of the fiscal year 2010.

The space shuttle Atlantis? upcoming STS-125 mission, set to launch Oct. 8, aims to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA initially delayed the flight to make improvements to the shuttle external fuel tanks.

More concern arose when the previous launch of shuttle Discovery damaged the flame trenches extending from one of two main launch pads at Cape Canaveral, Florida. But repairs that started in late June should allow the Hubble repair mission to go on schedule, NASA officials said.?

The on-time launch of Atlantis and Endeavour?s STS-126 mission would make 2008 the busiest shuttle flight year since NASA?s return to flight following the 2003 Columbia tragedy.

NASA has long planned to phase out its three remaining shuttles by 2010, and anticipates losing 3,000 to 4,000 related jobs at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The agency has already begun transitioning toward a new era of spaceflight with its Constellation program.

The final shuttle flight is currently scheduled for May 31, and would represent the 35th flight to the space station.