NASA?sspace shuttle Atlantis will blast off two days late next month due to delaysfrom recent storms that have also waylaid a planned November shuttle mission,agency officials said Friday.
Atlantis isnow set to launch no earlier than Oct. 10 from NASA?s Kennedy Space Center(KSC) in Florida on the final mission to overhaulthe Hubble Space Telescope. The second shuttle mission is now pegged for aNov. 12 launch, two days later than planned, toward the International SpaceStation.
The launchtargets for both missions - NASA?s last two of the year - were pushed back dueto downtime associated with Tropical Storms Fay and Hanna, both of which hinderedflight preparations for Atlantis and its Hubble instrument cargo at theseaside KSC spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
?It waspayload preparations,? NASA spokesperson Candrea Thomas of KSC told SPACE.com.?When we had Fay, it put the payload folks back four days. They made up two,but it?s just a matter of being able to get them some extra time so that we canlaunch.?
Atlantis?payload for Hubble consists of new cameras, batteries, gyroscopes and otherspare parts that the shuttle?s seven-astronaut crew plans to install during aseries of five back-to-back spacewalks set for the 11-day mission. The newequipment will extend the iconic 18-year-old orbital observatory?s life throughat least 2013, mission managers have said.
NASA closedKSC for several days in late August when Tropical Storm Fay drenched thespaceport with rain and battered it with high winds. The closure delayed Atlantismove to NASA?s 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building, where engineers laterattached the shuttle to its external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters.
Uncertaintyover Tropical Storm Hanna?s path this week prompted mission managers to holdoff on haulingAtlantis to Launch Pad 39A until Thursday, when it became clear the stormwould remain off shore and not imperil the shuttle.
Atlantis?cargo, Thomas said, is due to join Atlantis at its launch pad on Sept. 19.
But thedelays for the Hubble-bound spaceflight also pushed back the November flight tothe space station because both missions must use the same Pad 39A launchingsite. Endeavour?s November shuttle mission, STS-126, is aimed at deliveringfresh supplies and new equipment that will help prepare the space station for larger,six-person crews.
Once Atlantisreturns home from its Hubble mission, its sister ship Endeavour will be hauledoff a second shuttle launch pad and moved to Pad 39A, Thomas said. NASA plansto ready Endeavour on the nearby Pad 39B at the spaceport in order to serve asa rescue ship for the Atlantis astronauts should their spacecraft suffercritical damage.
Unlikerecent shuttle flights to the International Space Station, Atlantis astronautswill not be able to take refuge aboard the orbiting laboratory because itcircles the Earth in a lower orbit and different inclination than the Hubbletelescope.
Thomas saidthat while the fringe effects of Hanna were dumping some rain on Atlantis andthe spaceport today, workers could head out to the launch pad later thisafternoon to resume flight preparations if the weather clears. As of Fridaymorning, Hanna was centered about 110 miles (180 km) off the coast of DaytonaBeach, Fla., and moving northwest at 20 mph (32 kph) with maximum sustainedwinds reaching speeds of about 65 mph (100 kph), according to the NationalHurricane Center.
Meanwhile,NASA is keeping close tabs on Hurricane Ike, a Category 3 storm with maximumsustained winds blowing up to 120 mph (195 kph) as it moves west across theAtlantic Ocean, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm?s centerwas located about 425 miles (685 km) north of the Leeward Islands.
?We arewatching that closely to see which way it goes and what we need to do,? Thomassaid.
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