NASA Delays Shuttle Mission to Hubble

NASA Delays Shuttle Mission to Hubble
Clouds serve as a backdrop to frame space shuttle Atlantis (foreground) on Launch Pad A and Endeavour on Launch Pad B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. For the first time since July 2001, two shuttles are on the launch pads at the same time at the center.
(Image: © NASA/Troy Cryder)

Space Shuttle Atlantis will launch no sooner than Oct. 14for the long-awaited STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Ithad been slated to launch on Oct. 10.

The following mission of the shuttle Endeavour to theInternational Space Station (STS-126) will also move from Nov. 12 to Nov. 16 atthe earliest. The changes come as a result of Hurricane Ike closing down NASA'sJohnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, for a week.

Hurricane Ike forced NASA to evacuate JSC on Sept. 11,although the facility reopened 11 dayslater. The storm caused some minor roof damage at JSC and postponed thedocking of a Russian cargo ship at the space station.

"The crew was set back on training, and there was acouple days slip getting the payload to the pad," said John Yembrick, aNASA spokesperson at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. He described thedelay as a "waterfall effect of all these things coming together."

Perhaps more critically, the closure kept the Atlantiscrew from practicing a pair of simulations and spacewalk rehearsals at NASA'sNeutral Buoyancy Laboratory.

Shuttle commander Scott Altman told reporters earlierthat missingseven days of training had raised the question of either pushing back thelaunch date or cutting out mission events. However, vehicle processing of theshuttles continues on schedule at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in CapeCanaveral, Fla.

The Atlantis crew has a full schedule of five back-to-backspacewalks during an 11-day mission to upgrade and repair Hubble for thefifth and final time. All seven astronauts completed a three-day prelaunchtraining marathon that ends with a full-countdown dress rehearsal aboard thespace shuttle

Shuttle Endeavour is standingby for launch in the unlikely event that Atlantis runs into trouble andhappens to require a rescue mission. Both the astronauts and NASA officialshave emphasized the move as precautionary, because Atlantis must fly to ahigher and different orbit beyond the space station.

Further delays down the road could push Endeavour'sfollowing STS-126 mission to next year, because of a window lasting fromNovember 26 to December 17 when the shuttle cannot launch to the space station.But NASA remains optimistic about squeezing in five flights in 2008.

"We're confident we'll get both shuttles off thisyear," Yembrick told SPACE.com.

More details on the delay are expected at a Friday newsconference on Oct. 3, after NASA completes its Flight Readiness Review for theSTS-125 mission.

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