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Orbiter: Atlantis
Mission: STS-132
Payload: MRM 1
Launch: May 14, 2010
Time: 2:20 p.m. EDT
Site: Pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center
Landing: May 26 @ approx. 8:48 a.m.
Site: KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility

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Does shuttle Atlantis have one extra flight in her?
BY JUSTIN RAY
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: May 12, 2010


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Could space shuttle Atlantis get a reprieve from retirement and fly again next year to truck a load of supplies to the International Space Station?

Well, no one knows the definitive answer yet. Many have urged NASA to do it. The program has the fuel tank and solid rockets to power the mission. But, thus far, the space agency hasn't formally started planning the flight, nor does it have the funding from Congress.

 
Credit: NASA
 
The ability to even contemplate the bonus extension stems from the post-Columbia philosophy of always having a rescue vehicle available to mount an emergency retrieval of astronauts stranded in orbit by a damaged shuttle unfit for re-entry.

When Atlantis lands on May 26, ground technicians will put the shuttle back into the typical post-flight turnaround process to ready it for duty as the rescue ship for Endeavour's STS-134 mission, which is currently the program's final flight later this year.

"We need to go through the normal de-servicing steps, obviously, after the orbiter comes home...We have to prepare Atlantis and the stack as if we're going to fly again because it is (launch-on-need) mission," said shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach.

"We'll be processing her as if it's a real flight to begin with. Somewhere along the line we expect to hear whether we're going to launch or not, and at that point in time either press on or stop that processing. But in order to support that, obviously, we have press on when she gets home."

But with long odds that a rescue would really be required, there's a notion to fly Atlantis crewed by just four astronauts on a regular mission and a large logistics module to service the International Space Station with supplies and more science equipment.

Designing such a mission, getting the cargo pulled together and training a crew would take many months, so the clock is ticking for a "go" or "no go" decision.

"We kind of know what cargo we would fly, so we've got that kind of figured out. But if we're really going to do this, we need to know sometime in June," said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief of space operations.

The final planned flight of space shuttle Atlantis is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-132. Available in our store!
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Without yet another external fuel tank readily available, there would be no means of rescuing that Atlantis crew using a shuttle. Russian Soyuz capsules could bring the astronauts home over time, but NASA hasn't entered any formal discussions about such an arrangement.

With European and Japanese cargo freighters launching to the outpost late this year and early next, plus continued Russian resupply ships, the extra flight of Atlantis isn't desired until next summer, the International Space Station program manager, Mike Suffredini, says.

"So I was king for a day and you said, 'Mike, you can have this extra flight and have it anywhere I want to' I would ask for it in about the summertime next year. I have quite bit of logistics flights and capabilities between now and the next spring-ish timeframe. ...If somebody said, 'hey, you can have this extra flight' I'd tell 'em 'well, OK, but don't give it to me until next summer because that's when I could make use of it."

Stretching the shuttle program all the way to mid-2011 certainly isn't funded and would require Congressional orders. It could happen or it may just be a dream for those still wishing against retirement of the spaceplanes.

"We are in the ninth inning," said lead shuttle flight director Mike Sarafin. "Atlantis may go into extra innings. We don't know."

Ken Ham, commander of the mission launching Friday, says his crew isn't planning a lot of commemoration to Atlantis' potential finale because of the uncertainty about a future flight.

"We've come up with a tagline for you. This is the first last flight of Atlantis," Ham said. "We really don't know which she is gonna do next."

Spaceflight Now Plus
Additional coverage for subscribers:
VIDEO: AN ASTRONAUT'S TRIBUTE TO SHUTTLE ATLANTIS PLAY

VIDEO: GET BRIEFED ON THE LAUNCH COUNTDOWN PLAY
VIDEO: HEAR FROM THE COMMANDER AT THE RUNWAY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS ARRIVE IN FLORIDA FOR LAUNCH PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH KEN HAM PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH TONY ANTONELLI PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH GARRETT REISMAN PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH MIKE GOOD PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH STEVE BOWEN PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH PIERS SELLERS PLAY

VIDEO: STS-132 MISSION PREVIEW MOVIE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: FULL FLIGHT READINESS REVIEW NEWS BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: RECAP OF THE FLIGHT READINESS REVIEW PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MANAGERS ASSESS ISSUES BEFORE FLIGHT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UPDATE ON PRE-LAUNCH PREPS AT PAD 39A PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: PROGRAM BRIEFING BY SHUTTLE AND STATION CHIEFS PLAY
VIDEO: THE STS-132 MISSION OVERVIEW PRESENTATIONS PLAY
VIDEO: PREVIEW BRIEFING ON MISSION'S SPACEWALKS PLAY
VIDEO: THE ASTRONAUTS' PRE-FLIGHT NEWS BRIEFING PLAY

VIDEO: SHUTTLE EVACUATION PRACTICE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS BOARD ATLANTIS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH DAY REHEARSAL BEGINS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CREW BRIEFED ON EMERGENCY PROCEDURES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: TEST-DRIVING AN EMERGENCY ARMORED TANK PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CREW'S CHAT WITH REPORTERS AT PAD 39A PLAY
VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER RUNWAY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CREW ARRIVES FOR PRACTICE COUNTDOWN PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: GANTRY PLACED AROUND ATLANTIS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SHUTTLE ATLANTIS REACHES PAD 39A PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CROWDS AND THE CREW CHEER ON ATLANTIS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: OVERNIGHT ROLLOUT TO THE PAD BEGINS PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: SHUTTLE HOISTED FOR ATTACHMENT TO TANK PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CRANE ROTATES THE ORBITER VERTICALLY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ATLANTIS RISES OFF THE TRANSPORTER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ORBITER EMERGES FROM ITS HANGAR PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: BUTTONING UP RUDDER/SPEED BRAKE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: DOME SHIELDS AROUND MAIN ENGINES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: EXTERNAL TANK ATTACHED TO BOOSTERS PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: PAYLOADS HEAD FOR LAUNCH PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: RASSVET PLACED INTO THE TRANSPORTER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PALLET LOADED WITH MISSION'S CARGO PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: RUSSIAN RASSVET MODULE ON DISPLAY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: RUSSIAN ENGINEERS DISCUSS THEIR RASSVET MODULE PLAY
VIDEO: RASSVET HATCH CLOSED FOR FLIGHT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FILLING MODULE WITH NASA SUPPLIES PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: ASTRONAUTS VISIT THEIR SPACECRAFT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CREW INSPECTS RASSVET MODULE PLAY | HI-DEF
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