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Storms force slight shift in shuttle schedule

IMage: The space shuttle Atlantis rolls to the launch pad
The space shuttle Atlantis leaves the vehicle assembly building on its way to Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.Scott Audette / Reuters
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

The target dates for the next two space shuttle liftoffs have been moved two days later, due to the impact of recent tropical storms on launch preparations, NASA said Friday.

The space shuttle Atlantis is now scheduled to begin NASA's final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope no earlier than Oct. 10. The flight that's due to follow, Endeavour's resupply trip to the international space station, is targeted for a Nov. 12 launch, NASA said.

In a written statement, the space agency said mission managers decided upon the slight schedule shift after Atlantis' rollout to its launch pad on Thursday. NASA said the rollout, as well as the determination that Tropical Storm Hanna was beyond Kennedy Space Center in Florida, "allowed managers to more accurately assess the impacts of recent tropical systems on the launch schedule."

Hurricanes Fay and Gustav affected operations at Kennedy Space Center as well as several other NASA facilities involved in launch preparations. Meteorologists said Hanna was  far enough from the central Florida coast that it would not threaten NASA's launch plans. But Hurricane Ike, a huge storm now tracking toward Florida, may not be as benign.

"We'll just have to take it day by day," said Angie Brewer, the NASA manager in charge of Atlantis launch preparations.

A firm date for Atlantis' launch won't be determined until a flight readiness review scheduled for Sept. 22-23.

During the 11-day mission, spacewalking astronauts are expected to install a new camera and light-splitting spectrograph, repair two other science instruments and replace batteries as well as equipment needed to aim and hold the telescope on targets.

Hubble has been in orbit since 1990 and serviced by space shuttle crews four times. With the shuttle fleet due for retirement in two years, Atlantis' mission will be NASA's Hubble finale.

The mission was initially canceled after the 2003 Columbia disaster, which killed seven astronauts. NASA decided to only fly the shuttle to the space station, which could serve as a temporary haven for crews if a shuttle sustained Columbia-like damage during launch and was unable to safely return to Earth.

But the decision to abandon Hubble was panned by Congress. After a management change at NASA, the mission was revived on the condition that a second shuttle be at the launch pad and ready to fly if the Hubble crew should need an alternative way home. Endeavour is scheduled to join Atlantis at the seaside launch complex later this month and would serve as the backup shuttle.

Endeavour's 15-day mission, now targeted for Nov. 12 rather than Nov. 10, will bring supplies and cargo to the space station. It will also take up an incoming station crew member, NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, and bring down returning NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff after his five-month tour of duty.

This report includes information from Reuters and msnbc.com.