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Discovery Launches Dirty Job Of Ozone Protection Shuttle Exhaust Deposits Same Harmful Chemicals That Are Being Studied On Mission

Telescopes carried into orbit by the space shuttle Discovery on Friday will start to examine how chemicals are eating away at Earth’s protective ozone layer. But to get those instruments into space, Discovery had to spew 75 tons of those same chemicals into the air during Thursday’s launch.

A German satellite that Discovery released Thursday and will recapture Aug. 16, is studying just how chemicals react in the atmosphere to affect the ozone layer that protects Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays.

Shuttle booster rockets usually release 75 tons of ozone-eating chemicals. However, rocket exhaust accounts for less than 1 percent of the harmful chemicals that are spewed into the air each year, according to Air Force officials studying the issue.

NASA officials said the best way to study ozone unfortunately involves adding a bit more ozone-eating chemicals into the atmosphere.

“It’s a small price to pay,” said Michael Mann, deputy associate administrator for environmental and Earth studies.

If the satellite works, he said, scientists can better predict ozone depletion and environmental regulators can make better rules to govern the use of ozone depleting chemicals.

Discovery’s instruments also will begin a study on Friday of cloud formation. At the same time, astronauts Jan Davis and Stephen Robinson will take turns operating a $100 million, six-jointed, robotic arm. This is a test of a Japanese device proposed for the planned international space station.

Davis and Robinson will use the five-foot-long, aluminum arm, which is more flexible than the shuttle’s robot arm, to lock and unlock boxes and move parts around.

“It works like your own arm, but you have to tell it which joints to move,” Davis said recently.

Later during the 11-day flight, ground controllers in Houston will take turns remotely operating the experimental arm.

Discovery’s 10:41 a.m. launch went smoothly with only weather worrying launch officials. It was a record 10th straight time that NASA has launched a shuttle on the first try, a streak going back to May, 1996.

“You combine a great test team and a great vehicle, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have some on-time launches,” Launch Director Jim Harrington said.