By now, most people know one of the most successful space vehicles ever built will soon be a thing of the past, sitting in a museum somewhere for future generations to look at but not touch. But not so fast as they say. Shuttle’s Discovery and Endeavor were scheduled to make their last flights in September and November, but now they’ll fly in November and February of next year. NASA spokesman Kyle Herring explains.
“This really is just changing some dates around, because this is the way the calendar fits. There is what I label a lot of traffic around the International Space Station, especially in the late October time frame, which is where we were trying to put Discovery’s launch.”
It was the Bush administration that originally ordered the shuttle program to end and ultimately be replaced with a new space ship. That plan has not changed under the Obama Administration.
“These two flights have already been scheduled. So this is not an additional flight, obviously stretching Endeavors launch out of this calendar year is a newsworthy item because it moves it into 2011.”
That traffic Herring mentioned comes from the Russians and Europeans who will all launch their own vehicles to the space station this fall. Herring says they try to avoid that and launch when things are much quieter. And so once they change the date for Discovery, then they almost have to change the date for Endeavor as well.
“If we had no other technical issues, we usually space shuttle flights at a minimum about six to eight weeks apart anyway. So just by the sheer fact that we have Discovery’s flight November one time frame, you add two months to that and that puts you in January, and then you have that solar beta cutout I was talking about and our next available window would be the end of January.”
Had Discovery and Endeavor flown in September and November as planned, some people would have been out of a job the very next week. So while this is not an extension of the program, it does keep the paychecks coming for a little while longer.