February 25, 1996 in Nation/World

Astronauts Get Break Before Dangerous Experiment Nasa Delays Satellite Launch After Scramble To Fix Computers

Marcia Dunn Associated Press
 

Beset by computer problems, NASA on Saturday put off the release of a tethered satellite from space shuttle Columbia to ensure everything is working perfectly before attempting the dangerous experiment.

The seven astronauts stopped rushing - and seemed relieved - when Mission Control informed them the experiment had been delayed until today.

For more than 24 hours, they had been scrambling to fix two critical computers and prepare for a possible Saturday afternoon unreeling of the satellite on a 12.8-mile electrical cable.

Even though the astronauts got the computers working normally with help from engineers on Earth, NASA decided it was prudent to wait an extra day.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said flight director Chuck Shaw.

Shaw and other managers want more confidence in the tethered-satellite equipment as well as in emergency procedures needed if the computers fail once the satellite is deployed. Even under the best of circumstances, it’s a risky endeavor.

“This is not a payload to get in a big hurry with,” mission manager Robert McBrayer said.

The U.S., Italian and Swiss astronauts aboard Columbia spent months preparing for all sorts of emergencies that might arise as the half-ton metal ball soars above the shuttle for two days. If all else fails, the crew can chop off the tether.

The $443 million, U.S.-Italian test to generate electricity with space tethers was a huge - and embarrassing - failure the last time around.

A protruding bolt added to the reel at the last minute caused the tether to jam some 800 feet out during a 1992 shuttle flight, and hardly any electricity was produced. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Italian Space Agency officials considered themselves lucky to even get the satellite back.

NASA managers insisted this second flight would be different.

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