NASA will begin preparations for an additional shuttle flight it hopes to make in June before retiring the ageing fleet, the US space agency said Thursday, dpa reported.
Space shuttle Atlantis would deliver supplies to the
International Space Station under a plan to add a third and final shuttle mission to NASA's launch manifest. Two missions currently remain scheduled for the shuttle fleet, but NASA had long hoped to add a third.
Congress approved plans last year for a third flight, allowing NASA to start moving forward, but funding for the flight still remains uncertain and requires separate legislative approval.
Atlantis is now set to be on standby if a rescue mission is needed and could easily be utilized one last time on a full-fledged mission to the International Space Station.
Shuttle flights are currently set for late February and April. The planned February flight of Discovery has been plagued by delays due to problems in its fuel tank.
The Discovery mission also received another bit of unlucky news, when astronaut Tim Kopra suffered a biking accident, prompting NASA to replace him on the crew.