It’s the old shuttle shuffle. The launch of Atlantis for the STS-129 mission has been pushed back by four days to November 16 (at 2:28 pm EDT) to accommodate two unmanned rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, as well as the inaugural launch of the Ares I-X, scheduled for October 27. Right now the shuttle launch window lasts one day – the 16th. A second launch attempt on November 17 is being negotiated with a Delta IV launch, but NASA will stand down the 18th for the Leonid Meteor Shower (NASA won’t launch the shuttle into a shooting gallery), so if weather or technical issues don’t allow liftoff then, the next window opens from December 6-14. But there are issues with that time frame, too.
Atlantis would need to launch by Dec. 13 to finish its mission before a Russian Soyuz arrives on Dec. 23 (joint safety guidelines say the shuttle can’t be docked when an another ship arrives). Additionally, the Geminid Meteor Shower is scheduled for Dec. 13-14, so NASA would likely try to launch by the 12th.
The shuttle can’t be at the International Space Station from Nov. 21 through Dec. 5 because the angle of the sun will be such that the solar arrays could not generate enough electricity to support a docked shuttle.
The way it looks now, if Atlantis hasn’t launched by Dec. 13, it will stay on the ground until January 7. As antiquated as it sounds, NASA tries to avoid flying during the New Year’s holiday because the shuttle’s computers are not designed to handle the year-end rollover.
NASA said today the main reason for delaying Atlantis’ launch from the originally scheduled date of Nov. 12 is because of Tuesday morning’s rollout of the Ares 1-X out to launch pad 39-B, and subsequent personnel issues with preparations for the Ares flight and STS-129 at the same time . In a case of bad management, the STS-129 crew flew to Florida Monday morning to begin a training and a Terminal Countdown Test, but after they arrived, they were notified that NASA managers scrubbed the two days of training sessions by the crew out at the adjacent pad 39-A. The crew will return to the to Kennedy Space Center in early November to perform the practice countdown simulation in which they suit up and board the shuttle.
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Stay tuned for launch updates.