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NASA Proceeds With Launch Despite Gloomy Weather Forecast

April 22, 1991

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Despite predicted bad weather, NASA counted down the seconds toward Tuesday’s launch of the space shuttle Discovery and its assortment of ″Star Wars″ instruments.

Shuttle weather officers said today there was a 40 percent chance of favorable weather at 7:05 a.m. EDT, liftoff time, slightly better than Sunday’s forecast. The main concerns were low clouds, high wind and possible rain.

The odds were expected to improve to 50-50 later in the morning. The forecast is better for Wednesday or Thursday.

Officials planned to start loading more than a half-million gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen into Discovery late tonight. NASA test director Al Sofge said mission managers have tended to proceed with shuttle fueling despite poor weather predicted for launch time.

″As you know, weather is unpredictable,″ Sofge said. ″Generally, the bias has been to go ahead and tank if we think we have a chance of launching.″

Mission commander Michael Coats said he would be grateful for divine intervention with the weather.

″If you all know any prayers, please say them because we’ll be anxious to climb in and do it just one time,″ Coats said after arriving at Kennedy Space Center on Saturday with the six other astronauts.

The crew flew the shuttle training aircraft and trainer jets today and attended briefings. Five of the seven men have never flown in space before.

NASA test director Eric Redding said the countdown was proceeding on time despite a few hours’ delay Sunday in closing Discovery’s cargo bay doors. Workers encountered a minor blockage while loading liquid helium into one of the scientific instruments inside the bay, he said.

″We had done a lot of advance planning and built some contingency time in, and that paid off for us,″ Redding said. ″Right now, we’re just proceeding as planned and watching the weather.″

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has until Thursday to get Discovery off the ground.

If the shuttle doesn’t lift off by then, the launch will have to be delayed five days so more liquid helium can be loaded into the instrument sponsored by the office for the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly called ″Star Wars.″

That instrument will measure infrared radiation from the northern lights, cirrus clouds and the horizon. It is one of five scientific experiments on the flight.

SDI officials said such measurements are needed to develop sensors that can track and destroy enemy missiles.

Also on board Discovery is a ″Star Wars″ spacecraft to be placed in orbit for 1 1/2 days to study the shuttle’s exhaust plumes and releases of chemicals and gases for similar purposes. The crew will retrieve it for further experiments and a return to Earth.

While the spacecraft orbits near Discovery, Coats and pilot L. Blaine Hammond Jr. will perform choreographed maneuvers to point the shuttle’s engine nozzles at the spacecraft.

The crew calls the rapid, up-and-down twisting ″the Malarkey milkshake,″ named after NASA engineer John Malarkey, who designed the procedure.

The eight-day mission is one of the most complicated shuttle flights ever because of all the moves Discovery must make in mere minutes, sometimes seconds.

″We’re very, very proud of this flight,″ Coats said. ″We think it’s a tremendous challenge for NASA, probably one of the most challenging flights we’ve flown to date.″

It will be the 40th flight of a shuttle and the eighth military mission.

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