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NASA extends Atlantis mission by one day

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Space Shuttle Atlantis.

HOUSTON (BNS): NASA has extended its 33rd and final space shuttle mission of Atlantis by one extra day, the space agency announced Monday.

The bonus day on the last flight of the shuttle will give astronauts extra time to unpack the enormous amount of cargo that they are delivering to the International Space Station.

"There's a lot of good work that we can help the space station programme with – if we had more time to give them, we probably would do that as well," LeRoy Cain, chair of Atlantis' mission management team, told reporters in a news briefing.

Atlantis hauled 9,500 pounds (4,318 kilograms) of cargo into orbit, including supplies, spare parts and a year's worth of food, when it launched from Florida on Friday (July 8). These resources will help the station continue to operate through 2012, when NASA will no longer be able to rely on the space shuttles to carry hardware and supplies to the massive complex.

NASA is retiring its shuttle fleet after 30 years to make way for a new programme aimed at deep space exploration, including crewed expeditions to an asteroid and Mars.

With the addition of a day, Atlantis' is now flying 13-day mission to the International Space Station and will aim to return to Earth and land at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Florida at 0956 GMT on July 21.

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