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New Dates for Final Shuttle Launches

Discovery on the launchpad in March, 2010 for the STS-131 mission. Credit: Nancy Atkinson

If you are tentatively planning to attend one of the final shuttle launches, the uncertainty on launch dates just got a bit more certain; plus — an added benefit — we won’t see the end of the shuttle program until 2011.

NASA announced new target dates for the final two (and maybe three) shuttle missions. STS-133 is now aiming for November 1, 2010 at approximately 4:33 p.m. EDT for the final flight of shuttle Discovery, and for STS-134, February 26, 2011 at around 4:19 p.m. EST for shuttle Endeavour’s last launch. The potential bonus mission STS-135, would launch sometime in August 2011, if approved by Congress and NASA. The latest word on that was that NASA officials hope the decision would be made sometime this month.


The target dates were changed because the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer instrument, heading for installation on the International Space Station won’t be ready by the time of the previously planned Sept. 16 launch for STS-133. With that launch moving to November, STS-134 cannot fly as planned, so the next available launch window — taking into account sun angles and other planned launches –is in February 2011.

These dates were rumored last week, but this is now the official word. However, of course, all target launch dates are subject to change.

The last external tanks for the STS-134 mission was recently completed at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. There will be a final farewell ceremony at 9 a.m. CDT on Thursday, July 8, which will be shown on NASA TV. The event will commemorate 37 years of successful tank deliveries and the final external tank’s rollout for the last space shuttle flight. Coverage begins at 8:45 a.m.

The tank, designated ET-138, will travel on a wheeled transporter one mile to the Michoud barge dock. It will be accompanied by the Storyville Stompers, a traditional area brass band, and hundreds of handkerchief-waving employees in typical New Orleans fashion and spirit.

The tank will travel on a 900-mile sea journey to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will support shuttle Endeavour’s STS-134 launch. No word yet on how the oil spill may affect the journey.

Another tank that was damaged in Hurricane Katrina is being refurbished for the Launch-On-Need (LON) rescue mission STS-335, which if not needed and if it gets approval to fly as the actual final shuttle mission, (Atlantis) would change to STS-135.

Ken Kremer (who has written for Universe Today) has an article on SpaceRef about his tour of the Michoud Facility, which includes some great images.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • pahles July 1, 2010, 11:16 AM

    Eh, the AMS was (and still is) planned for the STS-134 mission. Delays in STS-133 and design changes in AMS led to the revised launch schedule.

  • TerryG July 2, 2010, 4:01 PM

    A constant source of amusement are the usually slothful politicians who snap into life once they see an opportunity to exploit unrelated events that might somehow support their re-election agenda. ref: Hutchison Pleased with Short-Term Shuttle Extension to 2011 – Calls Move “An Important First Step” . What the Senator claims is an “extension” is actually a forced delay due solely to further mismanaged delivery of the $1.5 billion 6,700kg AMS-2 instrument.

    The much delayed AMS-2, originally intended for external installation aboard ISS by 2003, has eventually been re-manifested all the way to the very last scheduled Shuttle flight possible, previously set for late 2010. True to form the AMS-2, which electively underwent a late reconfiguration from an expensive and short lived superconducting magnet to an inexpensive but longer lived permanent magnet, thereby taking advantage of a recent commitment to support the ISS through to 2020, has slipped it’s schedule again this time taking the last planned Shuttle flight with it and both with arrive at the ISS in late February 2011.

    The Senator goes on to misconstrue what she is calling an “extension” as a basis to “add the launch-on-need flight as an actual shuttle flight as well”. Not to be outdone, Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24) has suggested this “extension” be further lengthened to include “additional missions to fully service and support the extension of the International Space Station through 2020”.

    Sadly, we haven’t the last of the politically motivated spins concerning the impending end of the Space Shuttle programme. Within the last few hours, a Progress 38 cargo flight has aborted an ISS docking procedure due to telemetry errors but will try again within 48 hours. No doubt politicians from the Space Shuttle manufacturing states will seize this rare event as a pretext to further delay the Space Shuttle’s eventual retirement.

    On again, the space program that attracts so many gifted and enthusiastic scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and supporters continues to be held back by opportunistic politicians and mediocre management.

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