The shuttle's external tank was redesigned for safer launches after the 2003 Columbia accident. Falling foam from the tank punched a hole in the shuttle's wing, later exposing it to dangerous gases and heat on re-entry.
Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to make the Hubble trip, with her sister ship Endeavour ready for a rescue mission in case something goes wrong. Unlike missions to the international space station, a shuttle mission to Hubble offers no safe harbor if there's trouble.
If Endeavour isn't tapped for a rescue mission, the shuttle will launch its own mission to the space station Nov.10, a delay from its previous target of Oct.16. NASA officials also said they would use Atlantis for two additional missions after Hubble, ensuring use of all three orbiters until the program ends.
NASA plans to retire the shuttles in 2010 to make room for its successor, the Constellation program.
In a previous announcement, NASA officials said the most recent delay likely would push back all remaining shuttle missions by about five weeks, although they were confident they could meet the 2010 deadline.
Hubble Mission Is Moved Back
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration set Oct. 8 as the date for the final mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. A crew of seven aboard the space shuttle Atlantis was to repair and upgrade the 18-year-old telescope at the end of August, but the mission was delayed because more time was needed to build fuel tanks for the shuttle flight and a potential rescue mission. The agency also rescheduled a supply mission to the International Space Station to Nov. 10 from Oct. 16. The shuttle Discovery is scheduled for launching on May 31 to deliver and install the Japanese laboratory Kibo at the space station.