Shuttle’s Piggyback Ride to be Heavier Than Usual
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) _ Ground crews worked Sunday to prepare space shuttle Columbia and its cargo - an 11-ton space lab - for a piggyback jet ride to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The shuttle begins the trip Thursday, NASA spokeswoman Patricia Phillips said.
″The work is proceeding very well,″ she said. ″The orbiter appears to be very healthy, as does LDEF.″ She was referring to the Long Duration Exposure Facility, as the rescued laboratory satellite is called.
Columbia and five astronauts landed at this Mojave Desert military base early Saturday, ending a record-length shuttle flight that lasted nearly 11 days. Later in the day, the astronauts returned to their home base in Houston.
During the mission, the astronauts deployed a Navy communications satellite, then used the shuttle’s robot arm to retrieve the LDEF, which would have fallen into Earth’s atmosphere and burned if it wasn’t rescued soon.
The satellite will not be removed from Columbia’s cargo bay until after the shuttle returns to Florida on Friday night, riding piggyback atop a modified Boeing 747 jetliner.
To protect LDEF from contamination, ground crews started pumping cool, conditioned air and nitrogen into the cargo bay even before Columbia was towed off the concrete runway Saturday, Phillips said.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration and contractor employees worked on Columbia on Sunday while it sat inside the large steel girder structure called the mate-demate device.
″Overall, the vehicle is in excellent condition. Any damage is minimal,″ Phillips said.
She said the number of ″dings″ found on the orbiter’s heat-shield tiles was below average and remained the same as counted Saturday: 85 dings smaller than 1 inch, eight larger ones and one tile requiring replacement.
Most of the tile damage is on a part of Columbia that faces an access panel to the shuttle’s external fuel tank, which was jettisoned from the shuttle as it headed into space after its Jan. 9 launch, Phillips said.
It isn’t unusual for tile damage to be found on one area of the shuttle, and NASA will analyze tapes of the launch to learn what debris caused the damage, she said.
Because of LDEF, Columbia weighed about 228,400 pounds when it touched down, about 8,000 pounds heavier than any other shuttle during landing. No brake damage has been found, but the brakes will be analyzed, Phillips said.
Crews started purging the shuttle’s main engines of any residual fuel vapors overnight and also were draining hydrogen and oxygen from tanks that create power for Columbia’s internal electricity and orbital maneuvering system, she added.
Phillips said the shuttle’s piggyback jet ride is to start early Thursday, with a refueling stop at Davis-Montham Air Force Base near Tucson, Ariz., and an overnight stop at Kelly Air Force Base near San Antonio. On Friday, the shuttle will refuel at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida’s panhandle before arriving at Kennedy Space Center, she said.
Because of LDEF’s weight, the jet will ″fly a little bit lower,″ Phillips said. ″We won’t use the power to go quite as high. It’s going to be a little bit slower trip.″