NASA: Everything Looks Good for Thursday Launch of Columbia
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ NASA sailed toward Thursday’s planned launch of the space shuttle Columbia with six astronauts who will release a satellite designed to reflect laser beams fired from Earth.
″The launch countdown is going very well. Right now, we have no problems,″ shuttle test director Al Sofge said Tuesday.
The chances of acceptable weather for the 11:16 a.m. EDT liftoff dipped slightly to 70 percent. Forecasters were concerned mostly about high wind.
Columbia’s cargo checked out well, payload manager Mike Kinnan said. There are two primary payloads: the Laser Geodynamics Satellite, called Lageos, and a payload bay platform holding several experiments.
On Wednesday, crews were to load 12 rats, protein crystals and cells. Six of the rats are to be injected with an experimental osteoporosis drug; the others will be untreated so researchers can compare bone loss.
The Lageos satellite will help geologists measure the movement of Earth’s land masses, a contributor to earthquakes and mountain formation. Large plates of the Earth’s crust move about as fast as fingernails grow - generally no faster than 6 inches a year.
After Lageos is boosted into a 3,666-mile-high orbit, scientists will shoot laser beams at it. The 426 prisms on its surface will reflect the pulses back to Earth.
By measuring the round-trip travel time of the light pulses to various points on the Earth’s surface, researchers hope to chart the movement of the continents.
Lageos’ predecessor, launched in 1976, and other spacecraft have indicated, among other things, that the Hawaiian island of Maui is moving northwest toward Japan at about 3 inches per year.
The new Lageos is identical to its predecessor but will pass over different parts of the world, including the Mediterranean, a seismically active region that scientists want to better understand.
″If you have two spacecraft up there and you’re tracking both of them, you get more accurate information,″ said astronaut Tamara Jernigan, who is to release Lageos on day two of the 10-day flight.
The Italian Space Agency built the 900-pound satellite using blueprints provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Italy also made the satellite’s booster.
The crew has of five U.S. astronauts, all space veterans, and Canadian astronaut Steven MacLean, a laser physicist who will be making his first space flight. He will be in charge of a Canadian robotic vision system that uses television cameras and computers to improve astronauts’ control of the shuttle arm.