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Space Shuttle Discovery Prepares For Dec. Launch

Shuttle Discovery Prepares For Hubble Repair Mission.


Image courtesy of Nasa/Kennedy Space Centre

Towering atop its crawler transporter, the space shuttle Discovery made the slow 4.2 mile trek from the Assembly Building to launch pad on Sunday in readiness for its much-delayed mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

Discovery's important mission has been repeatedly delayed because of shuttle wiring problems, a last minute decision to change one of Discovery's main engines and most recently a damaged cable that is part of the shuttle's destruct system.

Discovery's rollout was delayed by five hours so repairs could be made to the foam insulation that protects its bullet-shaped external fuel tank. NASA officials were unable to say on Saturday what caused the damage. Sources said it might have occurred during repairs of the damaged range safety cable.

Because of all the delays, NASA will fly only three shuttle missions at best in 1999 -- the lowest flight rate since shuttle flights resumed in 1988 after the Challenger accident.

During Discovery's ten-day mission, its crew of seven will replace worn parts on the nine-year-old Hubble Space Telescope and upgrade other systems on the space observatory.

All of the six gyroscopes that provide Hubble's pointing capability will be replaced on orbit along with other equipment like a guidance sensor and main computer.

Four spacewalks are planned to support this flight. Commander Curt Brown, Pilot Scott Kelly; Payload Commander Steven Smith; and Mission Specialists Michael Foale, John Grunsfeld, Claude Nicollier, and Jean-Francois Clervoy make up the seven-member flight crew.

The cargo required to support the third Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission was delivered to the launch pad on November 8 and will be installed into the orbiter's payload bay on Tuesday. The payload interface verification tests begin later that week.

Discovery's astronauts are slated to arrive at the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday to participate in the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT), set for November 16 and 17. TCDT is held prior to each Space Shuttle flight and provides the crew opportunities to participate in full-dress, simulated countdown activities at KSC.

Discovery and crew are scheduled to launch on December 6 at 0737 GMT (2:37 a.m. local) marking the 27th flight of this orbiter. After 9 days and 21 hours in space, the second oldest orbiter in the fleet returns to KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility December 16 at 0457 GMT (11:57 p.m. on the 15th local).

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