Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Just 5 missions left for NASA's space shuttles

Last shuttle flightto space station scheduled for September 2010

The sun sets at the back of space shuttle Atlantis on the eve of its Nov. 16, 2009 launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., to begin the STS-129 mission.

The end is beginning for NASA's 3 aging Space Shuttles, with just 5 more missions on tap this year before the orbiter fleet retires in the fall.

That is, unless NASA requires a few more months to fly those remaining missions or President Barack Obama chooses to extend the shuttle program to fill a looming gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability.

Though the ultimate path forward for NASA has not yet been determined, the space agency is at a turning point after nearly 29 years of shuttle flight.
"Perceptibly it's the end of an era," said Roger Launius, space history curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. There's a sense of loss and certain amount of nostalgia, no question.

The very last space shuttle flight, the STS-133 mission of the shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station, is programmed for September 2010. Since the fleet's debut in 1981 the launch will be the 134th shuttle voyage.

"It's starting to hit home, I have to admit to you," said NASA's shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach after the Nov. 16 lift off of Atlantis on the STS-129 flight, the 5th and last shuttle trip of 2009. After this one, there's an added scheduled for Atlantis, two more for each of the other vehicles.

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