– NASA’s next space shuttle crew is now slated to launch one day early, March 15, on an 11-day mission to deliver a new set of solar arrays to the International Space Station (ISS).


James Hartsfield, a NASA spokesman at the agency’s
, said during a Jan. 24 ISS briefing that shuttle program managers have opted for a one-day advance of the launch of the STS-117 mission aboard the Atlantis orbiter. However, the new launch target will not be official until shuttle managers convene a traditional Flight Readiness Review meeting that precedes every shuttle launch, Hartsfield added.


Atlantis’ STS-117 crew, commanded by veteran shuttle astronaut Rick Sturckow, is hauling up the 17.5-ton Starboard 3/Starboard 4 (S3/S4) segment to the ISS.


The truss segment will not only serve as a new addition to the space station’s backbone-like main truss, but also contains two new solar array arrays that will be unfurled while the Atlantis astronauts are docked at the ISS. The astronauts plan to stage three spacewalks to install the new truss, deploy the solar arrays and retract an older solar wing extending to starboard from the station’s mast-like Port 6 truss.


NASA’s STS-117 mission has a launch window that stretches from March 15 through around March 29, after which Atlantis’ crew must wait until after the planned April 9 launch a Soyuz spacecraft carrying two Expedition 15 crewmembers and
entrepreneur Charles Simonyi, the next space tourist to the ISS.