• Kyodo

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Tuesday delayed a U.S. shuttle mission featuring Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, throwing the prospects of a multilateral space program involving Japan into jeopardy.

Putting off the Atlantis mission means delaying construction of the orbiting International Space Station. It also means that Japan’s plans to launch its experimental module, Kibo (Hope), to the ISS in 2006 will need to be extended.

NASA told a news conference that the Atlantis mission, the first space mission since the breakup of the Columbia, will likely take place around next summer.

Noguchi is likely to perform extravehicular activity aimed at preventing further space shuttle accidents. The Columbia disintegrated Feb. 1 on entering the atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.

The Atlantis mission, as well as a later second mission, will focus primarily on testing new safety measures and practicing in-flight damage repairs, according to NASA.

The Atlantis was initially slated for launch as early as March or April. An investigation into the Columbia accident uncovered numerous technical concerns that need to be addressed.

When the United States froze all shuttle missions pending an investigation into the Columbia tragedy, the future of the ISS program became uncertain.

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