Human Journey

Final Space Shuttle Launches Delayed

NASA announced today that they’ve officially decided to postpone the final two space shuttle launches, pushing Discovery’s launch to November and the [supposed] last-ever shuttle launch featuring Endeavour to February 2011.

For followers of the intrepid space agency, news of the delay—or any delay, really—will surely come as no surprise.

shuttle-atlantis-liftoff-delay.jpg

Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off for the ISS in May.

—Picture courtesy NASA

In fact, NASA has been asking for this particular delay since June, according to Space.com.

The stated rationale is that the hardware the shuttles are supposed to deliver to the International Space Station simply wouldn’t have been ready in time for the previously scheduled launch dates.

Discovery was slated to fly September 16 carrying a new storage module for the station and NASA’s prototype space robot, Robonaut 2.

robonaut-2-picture.jpg

But engineers said they wouldn’t have everything ready by September, so NASA agreed to bump Discovery’s flight.

The slipped schedule meant that Endeavour needed a new launch window, and the first available opportunity isn’t until next year.

Luckily, that gives folks more time to put the finishing touches on Endeavour’s main payload, a new instrument designed to live on the outside of the station called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

The AMS is a particle physics detector slated to work for at least three years. Scientists hope the data collected will help answer some big questions related to the way the universe works, including:

  1. solving the puzzle of the universe’s “missing” antimatter;
  2. finding traces of possible dark matter particles [note: a previous claim of dark matter detection has since been debunked]; and
  3. assessing the long-term risks of cosmic radiation to people and craft traveling in space.

NASA is also saying any decisions on scheduling a bonus shuttle flight won’t be made until August.

If the extra launch happens, NASA will give Atlantis, which otherwise finished its final flight in May, one more trip to space.

This time it’s the White House dragging some feet: Higher-ups in the Executive Branch need to make the call to extend the shuttle program, which is estimated to cost U.S. taxpayers $200 million a month.

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