NASA Sets New Dates for Next Shuttle Launches

A month after the original launch date for the current orbiter flight to the space station, known as mission STS-122, the U.S. space agency announced today that it will attempt to re-try to send up the Atlantis shuttle on 7 February. Its schedule was scrapped in December when balky sensors in the spacecraft's external fuel tank failed twice just prior to launch times.

NASA has spent weeks trying to repair the malfunctioning sensors (see "Glitch Grounds Space Shuttle for Weeks") and now believes it will have the problem under control shortly; but this has caused a knotty backlog in the overall schedule of flights to the International Space Station (ISS). To sort through conflicts on the calendar, the Americans have been working with their Russian counterparts to find compatible dates for the next four missions to the ISS, two by each agency.

Administrators for the two space services have now agreed that Roscosmos will send up its next Progress cargo vessel on 5 February, two days before the rescheduled NASA flight. This will clear up the workload for those in orbit sufficiently that the next mission of the Endeavour shuttle, STS-123, can be moved to the middle of March, clearing the way for a Russian Soyuz flight in early April.

The juggling in the schedules is crucial to getting the next major component of the ISS, the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory, delivered and installed, as the current crew of the ISS has been specially trained to work on the project.

According to the statement today on NASA's Space Shuttle Website, the agency's managers will meet in the coming weeks to address the schedule of remaining shuttle flights beyond STS-123, which is tasked with delivering the first section of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory module, as well as Canada's new robotics system, Dextre, to the space station.

With so many flights, with so much hardware, from so many nations, someone should be keeping their fingers crossed that all goes according to (the revamped and crowded) schedule over the next few months. The world will literally be watching.

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