NASA Delays Death of Space Shuttle Program to 2011

NASA's space shuttle program has gotten a brief reprieve, as the space agency plans to keep shuttle flights going until next year.

The space agency made it official Thursday after weeks of hints about the potential for launch delays. Managers agreed to postpone the next-to-last shuttle launch until Nov. 1. Discovery had been scheduled to fly to the International Space Station in September.

The very last mission now has a Feb. 26 launch date. Endeavour will close out the shuttle program by delivering a major scientific instrument to the space station. Why the delays? NASA says it needs more time to prepare the cargo for those two flights.

As for the possibility of an extra shuttle mission, NASA says no decision is expected before August. NASA would like to fly Atlantis one more time before the fleet is retired.

Discovery's STS-133 mission will deliver spare parts and an Italian room called Leonardo to the International Space Station. Formerly a cargo pod, the Leonardo module has been refitted to serve as a permanent storage room on the space station. The mission will also carry a humanoid robot called Robonaut 2 for tests aboard the station.

NASA wants to haul as many large parts as possible on the final shuttle flights before the three-orbiter fleet is retired.

The payload on the final shuttle mission has also experienced some delays in processing. Endeavour is slated to carry the $1.5 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an astrophysics experiment, to the station.

Scientists decided in April to replace a key magnet on the instrument with a more permanent one that would allow the experiment to run for a longer time on the orbiting laboratory.

the Associated Press contributed to this report.