NASA agrees to push back shuttle launches next year to service external tanks

NASA will push back three shuttle launches next year to give the space agency more time to service and possibly make changes to the spacecraft's external tanks.

The first three launches of next year are now scheduled for March 16 using space shuttle Atlantis, June 28 using Endeavour and Sept. 7 using Atlantis again. Those three launches on missions to construct the international space station originally had been set for Feb. 22, June 11 and Aug. 9. The changes were approved Thursday.

NASA also plans shuttle missions next year in October and December to deliver space station parts constructed by the European and Japanese space agencies.

The space agency is considering further design changes to the external tank. Its problems with shedding foam were blamed for 2003's Columbia disaster, which killed seven astronauts, reports AP.

Managers plan to hold a critical meeting in two weeks, at which they will decide whether to make changes to the tank.

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