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Shuttle's Final Countdown Pushed Back

The program gets a slight reprieve as last mission is delayed until early 2011.

The space shuttle program will live on for a few months longer as a result of a schedule change. NASA said Thursday that it has pushed back the final launch of a shuttle until February.

In what was to have been the final mission in space shuttle history, Endeavour was originally scheduled to blast off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center in November. Now, the final countdown is scheduled for February 26.

As for the penultimate shuttle flight, Discovery's last mission has been pushed back to November from its original launch window in September.

The decision to cancel the shuttle program was made under the administration of former president George W. Bush, in part due to the 2003 destruction of the shuttle Columbia, which exploded upon reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. All seven crewmembers were killed.

The program had previously lost a crew of seven when Challenger blew up shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986.

President Obama has stuck with the cancellation plan, and in addition decided to scrap a Bush initiative that would have seen astronauts return to the moon by 2020 in a new system comprising the Ares rocket and Orion crew capsule.

Obama's current fiscal budget scraps Ares and retasks Orion as an emergency lifeboat that would be permanently docked at the International Space Station.

NASA engineers recently successfully tested an escape system for Orion that's designed to jettison the capsule away from the launch pad in the event of an emergency like the one that claimed Challenger.

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