STS-135 officially designated a mission

NASA has officially designated STS-135 as a mission. Photo Credit: NASA

 

Although for some time now NASA has mentioned the STS-135 mission, the final flight in the space shuttle program, until Thursday it has not made the flight “official.” With that out of the way, there are now only three flights remaining in the shuttle era – one each for the remaining space-worthy orbiters. 

Discovery, the oldest shuttle in the fleet, is scheduled to take to the skies at the end of next month on Feb. 24. The oft-delayed STS-133 mission is a resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS). It will also deliver the newly-refurbished Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM), Robonaut-2 (R2) and spare parts to the orbiting laboratory. 

This flight has run into technical issues with Discovery’s Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP) as well as numerous cracks discovered on the orbiter’s external tank (ET). Crew status concerns have also recently become an issue with prime spacewalker Tim Kopra breaking his hip in a biking accident. Kopra has since been replaced by Steve Bowen. 

Endeavour is currently slated to begin the STS-134 mission on Apr. 19. This mission also has been thrown a bit of an “X-factor” due to the status of mission commander Mark Kelly. Kelly’s wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was severely injured in a shooting in Tucson, Arizona earlier this month. A backup commander, Rick Sturckow, has since been named. Kelly will decide in the coming weeks as to whether or not he will command Endeavour’s final ride to orbit. 

Atlantis’ final mission was supposed to be the STS-132 flight this past May, will carry out the final resupply mission on the shuttle manifest – STS-135. The mission is currently scheduled to last 12 days and lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 28. Originally the STS-135 flight was a rescue mission and has been prepped under the STS-335 designation. 

This flight will only consist of a four-member crew for a variety of reasons. Less crew, means more cargo that the shuttle can haul to orbit and in the event of an emergency (this mission will have no backup shuttle able to retrieve stranded astronauts) the crew can return to Earth via the Russian Soyuz capsules. The crew for this mission will be commander Christopher Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists; Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

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