WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- NASA says it has chosen the three-man, one-woman crew that could be the last to fly a U.S. space shuttle mission.
As things stand now, veteran astronauts Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim would fly only if the shuttle Endeavour sustains crippling damage during a planned February mission -- the last presently scheduled -- and its crew needed rescue.
In that case, Ferguson and his crew would fly the shuttle Atlantis on a rescue mission, Florida Today reported Wednesday.
But if Congress and the White House approve funding for an additional mission, they would fly the 135th and final shuttle mission next summer.
Presently, only two shuttle missions remain. Discovery is set to launch Nov. 1 and Endeavor in February 2011.
"The normal training template for a shuttle crew is about one year prior to launch, so we need to begin training now in order to maintain the flexibility of flying a rescue mission if needed, or alter course and fly an additional shuttle mission if that decision is made," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, said.
The Kennedy Space Center has been preparing Atlantis for possible rescue duty since the spacecraft returned in May from what was meant to be its final scheduled flight.