NASA extends shuttle mission schedule into 2011

Final two space shuttle flights are now scheduled for takeoff in November and February

As expected, NASA has pushed back the dates of its last two space shuttle flights, which will delay the fleet's retirement until early next year.

The final two shuttle launches had been scheduled for September and November. The space shuttle Discovery is now slated to make its last liftoff on Nov. 1 while Endeavour is set to launch on its final voyage on Feb. 26, according to NASA.

"The target dates were adjusted because critical payload hardware for the [original September] mission will not be ready in time for the previously targeted date," NASA said in a statement. "With Discovery's move, Endeavour had to plan for its next available window, which was February."

The slip in the last launch dates isn't surprising.

In March, NASA's Office of the Inspector General released a report noting that the space agency probably wouldn't be able to complete the last of the remaining shuttle flights until the first or second quarter of 2011.

The report also noted that extending the program beyond its original goal of a September retirement would cost about $200 million a month.

A month after that report was released, NASA announced that it was pushing the launch date of its last shuttle mission back from September to November.

This week, that schedule was pushed back for a second time.

The space shuttle Atlantis, which made its first space voyage in 1985, made its final flight in May. With its last mission to the International Space Station under its belt, Atlantis has logged in nearly 120 million miles in its career.

The last two space shuttle flights will focus on ferrying spare parts and equipment to the space station. Once NASA's shuttle fleet is retired, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to move massive pieces of equipment up to the station.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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