Next shuttle launch delayed to April 29

CBS News

Launch of the shuttle Endeavour on a mission to the International Space Station has been delayed 10 days to April 29 because of a conflict with the already planned launch and docking of an unmanned Russian Progress supply ship.

Endeavour's crew poses atop the launch pad. Left to right: commander Mark Kelly, pilot Gregory Johnson, Michael Fincke, Andrew Feustel, Roberto Vittori, Gregory Chamitoff. (Credit: NASA TV)
"Following discussions among the International Space Station partners on Sunday, NASA has targeted the launch of space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission for (3:47:47) p.m. EDT on Friday, April 29," NASA said in a statement posted on its shuttle web site. "The delay removes a scheduling conflict with a Russian Progress supply vehicle scheduled to launch April 27 and arrive at the station April 29."

An executive-level flight readiness review to assess Endeavour's launch processing is planned for April 19.

Endeavour commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates had hoped to blast off April 19, but that would have required the Russians to delay the Progress arrival until after the shuttle departed on May 1. But the Russians decided a docking delay could not be accommodated and the shuttle launch was delayed instead.

Endeavour's flight has generated intense media interest in the United States because of Kelly's decision to press ahead with the mission in the wake of the attempted assassination of his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, in January. Giffords is recovering in Houston from a gunshot wound to the head and Kelly has said he hopes she will be able to attend his launching in Florida.

The fight would have generated widespread interest in any case because it is Endeavour's 25th and final mission and the next-to-last flight on NASA's shuttle manifest before the fleet is retired. As it now stands, news organizations will have to split their resources to cover the shuttle launch and the British royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

The primary goals of Endeavour's mission are to deliver critical supplies and equipment to the International Space Station, along with a $2 billion particle physics experiment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. Four spacewalks also are planned to carry out needed maintenance on the lab complex.

Assuming an on-time launch April 29, Kelly will guide Endeavour to a docking at the space station's forward port around 1 p.m. on May 1. The AMS will be attached to the lab's right-side solar power truss the next day. The flight plan calls for spacewalks on May 3, 5, 7 and 9 before undocking just after 6 p.m. on May 11. Landing back at the Kennedy Space Center would be targeted for around 9:30 a.m. on Friday May 13.

One wild card in the flight plan is the possibility of a Soyuz undocking and fly-around to photograph the space station with Endeavour still attached.

NASA asked the Russians to consider a similar fly-around during the shuttle Discovery's recently-completed mission, but the Russians declined because of a short planning cycle and the need to use an upgraded Soyuz making its first flight. If a fly around is added to Endeavour's mission, the flight will be extended.