— NASA is targeting , for the space shuttle fleet’s final mission before retirement.
The U.S space agency announced the date along with launch targets for seven other shuttle missions planned for 2009 and 2010 that are expected to be the fleet’s last.
The pre-retirement schedule for the shuttle has 10 remaining flights, including missions already scheduled for Oct. 8 and Nov. 10 of this year.
The planned follow-on for the shuttle fleet is the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and Ares 1 rocket now in development and expected to enter service in 2015.
But first, seven flights are slated to complete assembly of the international space station, with an additional two contingency flights on tap to deliver critical spare parts to the station before NASA retires its three remaining shuttles from service.
The upcoming STS-125 mission, involving the shuttle Atlantis, is set to launch Oct. 8 on the final mission to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope, something Ares and Orion will not be capable of doing. NASA initially delayed the flight to make improvements to the shuttle external fuel tanks.
More concern arose when the previous launch of the Shuttle Discovery damaged the flame trenches extending from one of two main launch pads at Cape Canaveral, Fl a. But repairs that started in late June should allow the Hubble servicing mission to go on schedule, NASA officials said.
The on-time launch of Atlantis and Endeavour’s STS-126 mission would make 2008 the busiest shuttle flight year since NASA’s return to flight following the 2003 accident.
NASA has long planned to phase out its three remaining shuttles by 2010, and anticipates losing 3,000 to 4,000 related jobs at the in . The agency already has begun the transition toward a new era of spaceflight with its Constellation program, which has Orion, Ares 1 and eventually Ares 5 as its centerpiece.
The final shuttle flight currently is scheduled for May 31, and would represent the 35th flight to the space station. Congress, however, still may direct NASA to add at least one additional shuttle flight to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the space station.
The House of Representatives in June passed a NASA authorization bill that would require the space agency to fly the $1.5 billion anti-matter probe before retiring the shuttle. A similar provision was included in a Senate bill that still is awaiting a floor vote.
NASA officials have said they do not have money in their budget for the AMS mission, which they say would cost around $300 million to $400 million.
Brian Berger contributed to this article from