Image: Space Shuttle Atlantis
NASA
Silhouetted against the early morning sky, space shuttle Atlantis begins to roll away from Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
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updated 10/20/2008 12:27:46 PM ET 2008-10-20T16:27:46

NASA pulled space shuttle Atlantis off the launch pad and sent it back to the hangar Monday to await a trip to the Hubble Space Telescope next year.

Atlantis was originally scheduled to blast off this month on a mission to make various repairs and upgrade the telescope. But the Hubble broke down three weeks ago and stopped sending data for its space pictures, forcing NASA to regroup and delay its mission until February at the earliest.

Now astronauts will need time to train for a telescope repair they hadn't planned on.

Atlantis' return to the Vehicle Assembly Building marks the 18th time in 25 years that NASA has had to pull a launch-ready spacecraft off the pad.

Shuttle Endeavour, now at the front of the flight lineup, will be moved from its launch pad to Atlantis' spot this weekend. Endeavour had been poised to blast off as a rescue ship for Atlantis' crew if there was an emergency during the Hubble mission. Instead, Endeavour will carry seven astronauts to the international space station on an equipment delivery mission; launch is targeted for Nov. 14.

That trip will enable NASA to double the number of astronauts living at the orbiting outpost, from three to six. That transition should occur next spring.

The 18-year-old Hubble, meanwhile, has been unable to send back pictures of the cosmos since Sept. 27 because of a failure of its science commanding and data-handling system. Flight controllers tried unsuccessfully to get a backup channel working last week, and may make another attempt later this week.

When they do fly, the Hubble repair crew members will take up a replacement part for the disabled system.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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