Thursday, January 20, 2011

Atlantis officially named final shuttle mission

Atlantis is now officially designated to fly the year's third and final shuttle mission before the fleet is retired.

In a weekly program meeting today, shuttle managers changed the flight's numeric designation from STS-335 to STS-135, signifying a shift from a potential "launch on need" mission to one formally on the manifest.

It is targeted for launch to the International Space Station at 3:48 p.m. EST June 28, though station managers would like to see the mission flown later in the summer to best serve the outpost's long-tern supply needs.

The mission has been anticipated since it was requested in the NASA authorization bill signed into law in October.

But funding has remained uncertain with NASA operating under a budget held at 2010 levels through at least March 4.

Today's change directs training and other preparations to proceed despite that ongoing uncertainty. A crew of four led by Chris Ferguson has already been named to fly the mission, which would launch with the Italian-built cargo module nicknamed Raffaello.

IMAGE: Space shuttle Atlantis and its six-member STS-132 blasted off from Kennedy Space Center on May 14, 2010. Credit: NASA

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