Hyperbola is hearing that astronaut corp rumours are circulating about STS-134, previously the penultimate Space Shuttle fleet flight, saying that it is now to take place in December at the earliest and maybe even January or February 2011

One of the reasons for the delay is the fact that STS-133 will now fly the Permanent Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), Leonardo, which won’t be ready until October – three months after its current official date of September

While the orbiter Atlantis will be retired as early as this May after its mission STS-132, its sister ship Endeavour will still be used for STS-134 and Discovery will deliver Leonardo on STS-133; but before STS-134 rather than after it, as stipulated in the existing Shuttle manifesto

What will further extend Shuttle operations into calendar year 2011 is the extra money NASA was given for the possible continuation of operations beyond 1 October 2010. That extra money, the well sourced rumours say, could fund an extra flight, which would be STS-135 using Discovery

The STS-135 flight would be to deliver much needed spares and other cargo with an MPLM to the International Space Station but there would be no Launch On Need (LON) rescue Shuttle organised. Instead the mission would have a crew small enough for a Soyuz rescue spacecraft replacing the LON scenario – how much will that cost NASA?