Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hubble Mission on Track for May 12

NASA program managers agreed today that shuttle Atlantis is on track to launch to the Hubble Space Telescope on May 12.

The mission's program-level flight readiness review, which began Monday morning and linked various NASA centers by video conference, concluded around noon today.

"We are not experiencing any kind of difficulties that would preclude us from launching on the targeted May 12 launch date," said Candrea Thomas, a NASA spokeswoman at Kennedy Space Center.

That date will be recommended to top agency officials at an executive-level flight readiness review scheduled April 30 at KSC, a meeting that officially sets the mission's launch date.

A press conference will follow the review no earlier than 6 p.m.

The May 12 target date includes no contingency days, so a processing setback could lead to a launch delay.

Spaceport workers are scheduled to begin loading the Hubble payload into Atlantis' cargo bay at 7 a.m. Wednesday at launch pad 39A, a process expected to take about 12 hours.

The review finished today involved managers overseeing all shuttle systems, including the orbiter, external tank and solid rocket boosters, and the Hubble payload of science instruments, replacement parts and repair tools.

They agreed unanimously to recommend the May 12 launch date next week, Thomas said.

The meeting also examined the readiness of shuttle Endeavour, which is being prepared on launch pad 39B for the unlikely possibility that the Atlantis crew needs to be rescued on orbit.

The telescope's higher altitude means the seven Atlantis astronauts will not be able to reach the International Space Station if their spaceship is seriously damaged.

If a rescue is deemed unnecessary after a late inspection of heat shields by Atlantis, Endeavour will be rolled to pad 39A for a targeted June 13 launch to the International Space Station.

IMAGE NOTE: Click to enlarge the image above showing space shuttle Atlantis (left) and space shuttle Endeavour (right) on launch pads 39A and 39B, respectively, at Kennedy Space Center on April 18. This is expected to be the last time two shuttles will be on launch pads at the same time with the space shuttle fleet set for retirement in 2010. Photo credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

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