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NASA Moves Up Key Dates for Shuttle Launch

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. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA aims to accelerate thecampaign to launch shuttle Atlantis in October by moving major pre-launchmilestones up about four days each, officials said Friday.

The 15-story external tankdesignated for the mission will be mated to twin solid rocket boosters on Aug.3 rather than Aug. 7, Kennedy Space Center spokeswoman Candrea Thomas said.

If all goes well, NASAhopes to advance the orbiter's move to the Vehicle Assembly Building, and thenits rollout to launch pad 39A, by about the same amount of time.

Schedules still are underevaluation, but in that case, the Atlantis move to the assembly building wouldcome around Aug. 18 rather than Aug. 22.

Rollout to the pad wouldcome around Aug. 25.

NASA wants to moveup its next two launches to make sure the second flies before a window ofopportunity closes in late November.

The Atlantis launch on a HubbleSpace Telescope servicing mission is scheduled for Oct. 8. Endeavour isslated to launch Nov. 10 on an International Space Station outfitting mission.

Managers will meet Aug. 14to see if earlier dates can be targeted.

The sun angle on thestation between Nov. 25 and Dec. 17 will be such that the outpost would not beable to generate enough power, or dispel enough heat, to support a dockedshuttle mission.

NASA also would opt not tolaunch during the Christmas or New Year's holidays.

That means Nov. 24 iseffectively the last day in 2008 to launch shuttlemissions to the station.

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Todd Halvorson

Todd Halvoron is a veteran aerospace journalist based in Titusville, Florida who covered NASA and the U.S. space program for 27 years with Florida Today. His coverage for Florida Today also appeared in USA Today, and 80 other newspapers across the United States. Todd earned a bachelor's degree in English literature, journalism and fiction from the University of Cincinnati and also served as Florida Today's Kennedy Space Center Bureau Chief during his tenure at Florida Today. Halvorson has been an independent aerospace journalist since 2013.