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Cold forecast delays shuttle
By Steven Siceloff
CANAVERAL -- NASA postponed shuttle Columbia's launch by a day rather
than contend with cold weather this morning. The agency will try
again at 6:22 a.m. Friday. The weather then is forecast to be 49
degrees at launch time, with an 80 percent chance of acceptable
Temperatures were expected to approach the lower limit for liftoff
today at Kennedy Space Center, so shuttle managers announced the
delay after the six-man, one-woman crew went to sleep Wednesday
afternoon. The astronauts will spend today training for their mission
to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Freezing temperatures were implicated in the shuttle Challenger
disaster, although NASA's solid-rocket boosters have been redesigned
with heaters to alleviate much of that threat.
Seven astronauts, led by commander Scott Altman, will use the 11-day
mission to retrofit the orbiting telescope with a new camera, more
efficient solar array wings and a new power system.
Astronauts Duane "Digger" Carey, John Grunsfeld, Nancy Currie, Jim
Newman, Rick Linnehan and Mike Massimino will share duties ranging
from spacewalks to operating Columbia's robot arm to filming the
The mission calls for five straight days of spacewalks, about 33
With the launch delay, Columbia is to return to KSC at about 4:30
a.m. March 12.
Hubble awaits Columbia: Shuttle to carry
repair team to telescope early Friday
By Steven Siceloff
CAPE CANAVERAL -- NASA will dispatch a team of seven astronauts
Friday morning to polish its crown jewel of astronomy, the Hubble
The orbiting observatory has glimpsed galaxies on the edge of the
universe already, but a series of improvements during the mission
promise more clarity and more discoveries.
Veteran astronaut Scott Altman leads the crew with rookie pilot
Duane Carey. John Grunsfeld, Rick Linnehan, Jim Newman and Mike
Massimino will perform five straight days of spacewalks during the
11-day mission. Nancy Currie will maneuver the shuttle's robot arm
through several complex procedures.
Cold weather got the best of Columbia today. Shuttle managers decided
to delay the Thursday scheduled launch for one day to hold out for
better weather Friday. The new launch time is 6:22 a.m. The weather
forecast for Friday calls for an 80 percent chance of acceptable
weather, and temperatures at least 10 degrees warmer than Thursday.
Cold weather was a culprit in the 1986 Challenger disaster when
O-rings sealing the joints of the twin solid rocket boosters hardened,
allowing searing flames to leak out and destroy the external tank.
It was 36 degrees at liftoff that morning, but dropped well below
freezing the night before.
The boosters now carry heaters for the joints, so the concern lies
with ice building up on the external tank, NASA Test Director Pete
Nickolenko said. Officials fear ice chunks could ding Columbia's
vital heat shield tiles during liftoff.
The agency has never scrubbed a shuttle launch solely because of
cold weather, Priselac said.
Engineers also are analyzing a wheel bearing on Columbia, Shuttle
Program Manager Ron Dittemore said. They want to make sure the right
tests were performed on the bearings. There is a fear failed bearings
could cause the shuttle to skid at landing.
"It tends to not roll very far after you lose the wheel bearing,"
The launch could be the easiest part of the mission for the crew
of seven, given the complexity of their job in space.
Upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope requires five spacewalks, a
perilous electrical shutdown of the observatory and hours of delicate
maneuvers with the robot arm.
NASA launched three previous repair and maintenance flights, but
a combination of intricate work and high risk make this mission
the most complex ever attempted, NASA officials said.
"I used to think nothing would ever surpass the (first Hubble repair)
mission until I had an in-depth review of this mission," said Ed
Weiler, associate administrator for Space Science.
Astronauts will add several components to the telescope:
· A state-of-the-art camera 10 to 20 times more powerful than those
· A smaller set of solar arrays that will provide 20 percent more
· A control system that will direct electricity throughout the satellite.
· A new guidance wheel to help point the mirror precisely.
· A mechanical cooler to resurrect the telescope's infrared camera
that sees different light than other cameras.
"Looking at it as one big project, it's daunting," astronaut Jim
Newman said. "We have to break it down into manageable pieces."
While all of the new parts hold promise, the electrical control
system wrenches planners and astronauts with worry because it means
turning off the telescope completely for the first time in 11 years.
If it does not turn back on, astronomers will lose a scientific
instrument that made more discoveries than all its predecessors
"It violates a long-standing rule in the space business that if
something's working well you don't turn it off and just hope it
comes back on," Weiler said. "We fully anticipate that everything
will work, but it is something we've never done before."
The electrical unit, which works much like a circuit breaker box
in a house, has deteriorated in space and cycles about 15 percent
less energy from the electricity-generating solar arrays to the
telescope's power-hungry instruments.
"It wouldn't have to get much worse to threaten the ability to do
science," said Preston Burch, Hubble project manager.
Replacing it with a new model requires astronauts John Grunsfeld
and Rick Linnehan to work with specialized tools on the box and
wires that were never designed for such servicing. Most of the telescope's
other components were built into modules that can be replaced relatively
quickly and easily.
The replacement is scheduled for the third spacewalk of the mission.
"We're going to be sitting on the edge of our seats," Burch said.
Hubble's success during the past 11 years is the main reason for
The agency spent almost $7 billion on the orbiting telescope since
it was planned in the late 1970's. It costs $10 million a month
to operate, and every shuttle mission to service it runs at least
$500 million before considering the specialized equipment needed.
Burch said the gear for Thursday's flight alone cost $172 million.
Now seen as a bargain, the Hubble was considered a boondoggle during
most of its development thanks to technical problems and schedule
delays that kept it grounded seven years longer than planned. The
label seemed etched in stone when the telescope returned blurry
photographs of the cosmos due to a flawed main mirror.
Weiler said he felt like he was in the deepest hole in the desert,
and no one was eager to help him find the light.
"We had a tough time digging out of that hole in Death Valley,"
Three years later, a group of astronauts fitted the telescope with
a set of glasses, and the telescope began living up to its promise.
Regular discoveries erased memories of flawed mirrors and led to
more than 3,200 technical papers.
During its 11 years looking out at space, the observatory has taken
420,000 photographs. Its highlights include:
· Measuring the size of the universe and reliably estimating its
· Discovering black holes are common, and may exist at the center
of every galaxy.
· Analyzing the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system.
· Discovering the universe is accelerating instead of slowing down.
· Finding an enigmatic force called dark energy.
"When people think of space exploration, they tend to think of men
on moon walking around exploring it," Grunsfeld said. "Hubble is
about exploring the whole rest of the universe from the moon on
Friday's launch will mark the return of Columbia, the oldest of
NASA's four-shuttle fleet. The spacecraft, which first flew in April
1981, spent months in a Boeing hangar in California undergoing a
major overhaul and exhaustive inspections on miles of wiring.
Damaged wires caused a short circuit during Columbia's July 1999
The glitch shut down a computer controlling one of Columbia's three
main engines, nearly causing a catastrophe. A back-up computer took
over and the launch proceeded safely. The rest of the fleet was
grounded several months for wiring inspections on each orbiter in
While shuttles Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour returned to space
duty, Columbia spent extra time in the shop.
The work continued at Kennedy Space Center with more testing and
technicians adding the components needed to make the craft space-worthy
"The vehicle is in great shape and ready to fly," NASA Test Director
Steve Altemus said.
Crew faces challenges with Hubble
By Steven Siceloff
CANAVERAL -- Working on one of the world's most sophisticated satellites
while wearing bulky gloves and a spacesuit will never be easy, one
of the spacewalkers preparing to service the Hubble Space Telescope
"It's designed to be serviced by astronauts, but there's always
surprises," said John Grunsfeld, one of four astronauts who will
take turns making five spacewalks to repair some of the telescope's
most sensitive components.
Some of the work, such as connecting a new power system, will be
akin to plugging a telephone into a wall jack while wearing boxing
gloves. They will also install a new camera inside the satellite,
recharge a defunct infrared device and replace a faulty reaction
wheel that helps point the$2 billion observatory.
Astronauts spent hundreds of hours practicing in a giant swimming
pool to simulate working in space, Grunsfeld said. He performed
two spacewalks during a December 1999 mission to service the space
This will be the second flight aboard Columbia for mission commander
Scott "Scooter" Altman. It will be his third flight overall.
Rookie Duane "Digger" Carey will pilot Columbia during the first
mission of his career. Grunsfeld, Richard Linnehan, James Newman
and first-time flyer Michael Massimino will take turns performing
five demanding spacewalks.
"I feel like the luckiest rookie astronaut since Alan Bean," Massimino
said. "Al Bean got to walk on the moon on his first flight and I
get to spacewalk on the Hubble."
Nancy Currie will operate the shuttle's robot arm during critical
maneuvers to place the telescope on its work platform in Columbia's
At the launch pad, workers gave Columbia's cargo bay a final cleaning
before the specialized pallets and equipment to service the telescope
are placed inside.
Crawler inches Columbia to launch pad
By Steven Siceloff
CAPE CANAVERAL -- As shuttle Columbia made its trip to launch pad
39A on Monday, 30 people kept the massive crawler transporter running
with the goal of placing the $2 billion shuttle within an eighth
of an inch of the target area.
Wide as an interstate and as long as four tractor-trailers, each
of Kennedy Space Center's two 6-million pound crawlers combine the
low-tech brute force of a tracked vehicle with exquisite precision
to deliver the shuttles to their launch pads, all at less than 1
mph. Slowly, it pulverizes river rock to dust as it travels 31/2
and 5 miles to pad 39A and 39B.
These crawlers -- which once bore the massive Saturn 5 rockets of
the Apollo era -- still bear the weight of the nation's manned space
program. A problem with either or both of the crawlers literally
brings the program to a standstill, as it did last week.
"There's only two, and without them you don't have a space program,"
Ten United Space Alliance engineers took turns driving Columbia
out to the launch pad Monday for its Feb. 28 mission. Technicians
and spotters took their places around the machine, giving instructions
The move, called "rollout" in KSC parlance, was delayed several
days when the crawler's steering mechanism stuck. Columbia was supposed
to rollout last Wednesday. The delay will not set back the launch
date, NASA spokesman Bruce Buckingham said.
An F-15 jet fighter buzzed through the clouds over the shuttle as
it inched down the custom-made crawlerway. NASA's Huey security
chopper flew laps close to the ground while an observation plane
circled the launch complex.
Crawler drivers can only see straight ahead and to the right because
the vehicle blocks the other side and back from view. It's like
seeing one tire while driving a car, and steering it solely by keeping
that tire near the curb. An advantage is the crawler moves less
than 1 mph.
"You think of how many billions of dollars of hardware are on your
back and you get a little nervous," said Tom Chabrak, United Space
Alliance's lead engineer for the crawler transporters at KSC. "If
you try not to have that as your major focus and just drive straight,
you won't even know you have a shuttle on top."
Emerging from the Vehicle Assembly Building, Columbia, the external
fuel tank and pair of solid booster rockets resembled a tower bolted
to an office complex on top of a shopping center. Unlike those structures
typically built in place, this one moves.
It takes six hours to roll to the launch pad. An orbiting shuttle
makes three trips around the Earth in that amount of time.
"You don't really have the wind blowing through your air at 9/10s
of a mile per hour," Vickery said.
Revving up the crawler and driving it as fast as, say, 2 mph is
out of the question.
"We'd all love to crank it up a lot faster, but then it becomes
a danger aspect," Chabrak said. "If you're up over 1 (mph) and then
one of these belts broke and you weren't able to get it stopped
in time you could really hurt somebody."
The two driving cabs on each crawler are big enough for two people,
but are more reminiscent of a ship's bridge than a car. There's
a brake pedal and small red steering wheel and push-button gear
box -- forward, neutral and reverse. A dial substitutes for a gas
The gray interior of the engine room, with its steel grate walkways
and two 2,750 horsepower diesel engines, also correspond to Navy
craft more than spacecraft. For example, the pumps that steer the
treads are the same used to turn battleship turrets.
The engines turn electric generators sending a current to 16 motors
that turn the treads. A secondary generator provides power for lights,
computers and air-conditioners onboard.
"We're basically a big electric vehicle," Chabrak said.
The diesel muffler beneath the machine is as long as some cars.
Chugging diesels and spinning generators make the engine room a
miniature purgatory of heat and noise when the machine is running.
Some corners of the interior reach 130 degrees, and produce 112
decibels of sound.
Workers are limited to 20 minutes at a time watching over the gauges
inside the compartment. Insulated from the heat and noise, technicians
sit in front of a bank of touch-screen computers monitoring the
crawler's health and keep the launch platform and shuttle level.
Hydraulic jacks raise one end of the crawler to keep the shuttle
steady as it climbs the 10-degree incline to the launch tower.
There are only eight bolts holding the shuttle to the launch platform,
so controllers work to avoid any swaying or tilting.
As they approach the launch pad, drivers turn to a yellow screen
with crosshairs etched in it. A laser from the launch pad produces
digital crosshairs that drivers use to match with the permanent
marks. A perfect alignment leaves the shuttle bolted down for launch
while the crawler moves several miles away.
The process is identical to the one the crawlers used in the 1960's
moving Saturn 5 moon rockets to the same launch pads the shuttle
uses today. The launch pad and mobile launch platforms were modified
to handle the shuttles. The crawlers' evolution centered largely
on the control room, where modern computers replaced aging systems.
Mechanically, the gears, tread cleats and other parts are unchanged
from when the machines were constructed at KSC.
In fact, finding parts for the behemoth is the biggest challenge
to keeping them working. That problem was evident last week when
the crawler broke down and the second was not in condition to take
Replacement parts have to be custom-made or the older parts must
be repaired to keep the massive machines operating.
Crawler delay strands Columbia at least two more days
By Steven Siceloff
space shuttle Columbia sits inside the Vehicle Assembly Building
at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday after the crawler, which transports
it to the launch pad, developed steering problems. The shuttle,
stacked to begin its mission, is stuck in the Vehicle Assembly Building
while mechanics try to repair the baseball infield-sized crawler
transporter that is supposed to carry Columbia to the launch pad
The spacecraft has been stranded inside the hangar since Wednesday.
NASA and United Space Alliance officials hope to move Columbia,
its external tank and booster rockets to the launch pad Saturday
morning, but may wait until Monday if the weather looks good, NASA
spokesman Bruce Buckingham said.
"If Monday looks like it's going to be great, then they'll go Monday,
otherwise they'll go Saturday," he said.
The crawler developed steering problems that locked one of its tread
sets out of alignment. Mechanics worked on the machine but could
not replace a faulty bearing in time to move the shuttle Thursday.
They also are inspecting the vehicle's three other treadsets.
Maintenance work on the second crawler is keeping it from being
a replacement. "It's unusual to have crawler problems of this magnitude
delaying the shuttle days in a row," Buckingham said. The rollout
delay will not set back Columbia's Feb. 28 launch date, Buckingham
NASA and USA have six days in their preparation schedule to make
up for lost time. The crawlers, built on-site at Kennedy Space Center
in the mid-1960's, are the only vehicles large enough to lift a
launch-ready shuttle and its platform and carry the 12 million pounds
31/2 miles to an oceanside launch complex.
The move will be Columbia's first to the launch pad since July 1999,
when it lofted the Chandra X-ray telescope into space.
This time, the orbiter's mission is to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
Mission reset for Feb. 28
By Steven Siceloff
CANAVERAL -- NASA postponed shuttle Columbia's repair mission to
the Hubble Space Telescope by a week in an anticipated move Thursday,
The agency's oldest orbiter will wait while engineers prepare a
new reaction wheel for the orbiting telescope, Kennedy Space Center
spokesman Jack King said. The device is one of four that carefully
points the $2 billion observatory at targets light years away.
A brief glitch with one of the wheels alarmed engineers in November
because it left the observatory without a reliable backup should
another wheel fail.
A sunrise launch is scheduled for 6:52 a.m. Feb. 28.
Managers hoped to launch Columbia on Feb. 21, but the spare wheel
would not have been ready. The instrument and its duplicate are
wrapping up tests before they will be trucked to Kennedy Space Center
and loaded into the orbiter.
Two spacewalkers are expected to take about an hour to remove the
questionable mechanism and install a new one. Other missions also
Hubble Telescope to Receive More Upgrades
By Kelly Young
CANAVERAL, Fla. - The Hubble Space Telescope has spent a little
more than 11 years in Earth's orbit. On paper, its life is more
than half over. But scientists say its best days are still ahead.
Astronomers at Tuesday's Space Congress were already gearing up
for another mission to upgrade Hubble. The flight of shuttle Columbia,
the orbiter's first mission since its own upgrade, is scheduled
to lift off no earlier than Nov. 19.
This telescope servicing mission, like the three that preceded it,
will add capability to the telescope and extend humanity's reach
into the universe.
"It's actually a lot cheaper . . . than to put up new telescopes,"
said Steve Beckwith, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute,
the research group that operates Hubble.
The astronauts will add a cooling system to a near-infrared camera
that lost its eyesight when it ran out of coolant. The new device,
which was tested during John Glenn's return flight in 1998, seeks
to restore that vision to look at the distant universe and areas
of the universe hidden by dust.
They also will attach a new instrument, called the Advanced Camera
for Surveys, which is projected to be 10 times more powerful than
the current camera for scanning the heavens.
Hubble's next targeted areas will include how galaxies formed in
the early universe and how they came to look the way they do.
While abstract concepts such as "dark matter" and "dark
energy" intrigue scientists, it's matter as most humans know
it that captures public interest.
"Because of the complexity of life that has arisen on Earth,
this tiny amount of matter holds a great deal of interest,"
The telescope's successor, the Next Generation Space Telescope is
expected to launch as early as 2007. One of its goals will be to
look for planets outside our solar system through eclipses.
Already, Hubble is able to tell when 1.5 percent of a star's light
is blocked out by a planet passing in front of it. So the future
telescope should provide an even clearer image of distant planetary
systems, Beckwith said.
Final Crew Picked for Hubble Overhaul Mission posted
astronauts have been named to complete the STS-109 crew already
in training for a mission that will feature five spacewalks to upgrade
the Hubble Space Telescope later this year. Shuttle astronauts will
install an advanced camera for surveys, a device to mechanically
cool science instruments and new high-power solar arrays.
Scott Altman, (Cmdr., USN), a two-time shuttle veteran, will command
the STS-109 mission. He will be joined on the flight deck by pilot
Duane Carey, (Lt. Col., USAF), making his first space flight, and
flight engineer Nancy Currie (Lt., USA, Ph.D.). Currie has three
previous space flights to her credit.
They join the previously assigned crew members -- payload commander
John Grunsfeld, James Newman, Richard Linnehan and Michael Massimino.
STS-109 will mark Altman's first flight as commander, having previously
flown as pilot on STS-90 in 1998 and STS-106 in 2000. Currie, who
brings extensive experience as a flight engineer and robotic arm
operator, flew on STS-57 in 1993, STS-70 in 1995 and STS-88 in 1998.
A space rookie, Carey was selected as an astronaut in 1996.
Grunsfeld has flown three times, STS-67 in 1995, STS-81 in 1997
and STS-103 in 1999 when he performed two spacewalks to service
the Hubble Space Telescope. Newman, veteran of three space flights,
STS-51 in 1993, STS-69 in 1995 and STS-88 in 1998, has conducted
four previous spacewalks. Linnehan flew on STS-78 in 1996 and STS-90
in 1998. Massimino is a member of the 1996 astronaut class.