NASA on Thursday postponed yet again the launch date for its Atlantis shuttle mission to deliver a European space laboratory to an orbiting station, pushing it back by a week to January 10.
"Moving the next launch attempt of Atlantis to January 10 will allow as many people as possible to have time with family and friends at the time of year when it means the most," said Wayne Hale, space shuttle program manager.
"A lot has been asked of them this year and a lot will be asked of them in 2008," he said in a statement by the space agency. "The workforce has stepped up to and met every challenge this year."
The mission was first due to launch on December 6 but was delayed after faults were found with fuel gauges on the shuttle's external fuel tank, requiring complex repairs. The December launch was finally abandoned.
Atlantis is to carry the European Columbus laboratory to the International Space Station, an orbiting platform hundreds of miles above Earth which is intended as a jumping-off point for deeper space exploration.
NASA now plans to fill the fuel tanks on December 18 in a test to try and identify the cause of the fault. The gauges show when the tank of liquid hydrogen fuel is nearly empty during the flight into orbit.
This causes the shuttle's engines to shut off automatically so they do not keep firing without fuel, which could cause an explosion.