NASA's Final Space Shuttle Launch Delayed Until November
it is planning to make some changes to the target launch dates for the
last two scheduled space shuttle flights. Scientists with the a $2
billion particle detector, or Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) program
recently decided to change out the current magnet in the particle
physics experiment module that will be attached to the International
Space Station to a longer lasting one. While this will take advantage
of NASA's plan to extend station operations until at least 2020, it
forces the space agency to delay the space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134
mission from July to November. An exact launch date has not yet been
AMS is designed to help study the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter and antimatter by measuring cosmic rays. NASA described it as a state-of-the-art cosmic ray particle physics detector designed to examine fundamental issues about matter and the origin and structure of the universe. Space shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission currently remains targeted for its Sept. 16 launch date, but NASA said managers would continue to assess its readiness for flight and make changes as appropriate. The next shuttle flight, Atlantis' STS-132 mission targeted for launch on May 14, remains on track with no changes, according to the agency.
Samuel Ting, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the 16-nation AMS project, said he began thinking about a longer-lasting magnet when during the end of last year talk of extending use of the space station beyond 2020 began to circulate. "I began to realize that we'd have a museum piece," he told Reuters.
Navy Capt. Mark Kelly will command the STS-134 mission. Retired Air Force Col. Gregory H. Johnson will serve as the pilot. Mission Specialists are Air Force Col. Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff and Andrew Feustel. European Space Agency astronaut and Italian Air Force Col. Roberto Vittori also will serve as a mission specialist. The flight will include three spacewalks and the installation of the AMS to the exterior of the space station using both the shuttle and station arms. The AMS will be attached to the right side of the station's truss, or backbone.
As NASA prepares to mothball the space shuttle program, the remaining flights have often focused on securing long-term enhancements to spacecraft such as the International Space Station. Last week the space shuttle Discovery and its crew returned safely to Earth after delivering a multipurpose logistics module filled with science racks to be transferred to laboratories on the space station. As the last round trip for the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, Discovery's 13-day mission provided the station with not only some 8 tons of science equipment and cargo, but also one last opportunity to send a large load of cargo back to the ground.