The last launch of NASA's storied space shuttle program has been pushed back to Feb. 26, 2011, the space agency has reported.
Space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), which will deliver spare parts to the orbiting facility, will be the 36th mission to the station. NASA also announced space shuttle Discovery's three main engines have been installed ahead of the launch of the STS-133 mission, the second to last, later this year.
"The target dates were adjusted because critical payload hardware for the STS-133 mission will not be ready in time for the previously targeted date," the space agency explained. "With Discovery's move, Endeavour had to plan for its next available window, which was February."
The space agency reported workers at Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida would spend the weekend securing the engines and testing the main propulsion system; Discovery's expected liftoff date is Nov. 1. Discovery will deliver and install the Permanent Multipurpose Module and the Express Logistics Carrier 4 and provide "critical spare components" for the ISS, NASA said. Endeavour's mission will see the shuttle carry spare parts "including two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, additional spare parts for Dextre [a two-armed robot] and micrometeoroid debris shields" to the ISS.
As the shuttle program winds down and thousands of technicians face layoffs, there is a contentious debate brewing at the White House and on Capitol Hill as to how best move NASA's manned space flight program forward. Earlier this week the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations voted to withhold all funding for the Obama administration's manned space plans, which the administration proposed to delay for five years.
In June, the Department of Labor announced it is providing a $15 million grant toward job assistance and transition services to 3,200 workers. The end of the shuttle program, which has been launching manned flights since 1982, is expected to impact 20,000 workers, according to reports from the Department of Labor. Job cuts will affect contract and subcontract workers of ASRC Aerospace, Boeing, United Space Alliance and others in Florida, Texas and other states, the agency reported in June.