One more flight for the space shuttle Atlantis?
Debate is still underway to determine whether the space shuttle Atlantis should get one more flight or be sent straight to a museum.
Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The Wednesday landing of NASA's space shuttle Atlantis may have capped a successful mission slated to be the spaceship's last trek to space, but the orbiter's immediate future is not yet set in stone. Debate is still underway to determine whether the shuttle should get one more flight or be sent straight to a museum.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Space Shuttle Atlantis: STS-132
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"Not only is this mission fantastic, but the entire life of Atlantis, the folks who built it, all the missions it's flown over its career have been just amazing," shuttle launch integration manager Mike Moses said. "I can't even begin to talk about how proud I am of Atlantis and the whole team that put it together."
The shuttle finished a 12-day mission to the International Space Station to deliver a new Russian room and outfit the station with spare parts for the era after NASA's three-orbiter space shuttle fleet retires. Two more shuttle missions are currently planned – one each for Atlantis' sister ships Discovery and Endeavour.
But what about Atlantis?
Whether or not the STS-132 mission will actually be the orbiter's last spaceflight has not been decided. Starting tonight, Atlantis will be processed and refurbished just in case it has to fly again.
The orbiter is on call to serve as the emergency rescue ship to be on reserve in case of a serious problem with NASA's final planned shuttle flight, the STS-134 mission of Endeavour slated for no earlier than late November. If something goes awry on that flight, shuttle Atlantis could be readied to retrieve Endeavour's astronauts from the station and return them back to Earth.
However, NASA and lawmakers are also considering whether to shift this so-called "launch on need" mission to a full-fledged final shuttle flight. The hardware, including an expendable external fuel tank, is already in place to fly one more mission. But that plan would require more funding to retain space shuttle workers for longer than currently planned.
It costs NASA about $200 million a month to keep its space shuttle program running, program managers have said.