The focus of today’s work aboard Columbia following crew wakeup at 9:45, is the deployment of the Spartan solar science satellite shortly after 3 this afternoon for its 2 days of free-flight science investigations and data gathering.
A companion solar satellite called the Solar Heliosopheric Observatory, or SOHO, is back in full operation after communications were temporarily lost Wednesday. Data from the Spartan mission will be used to calibrate instruments on the 2-year-old SOHO which will be remotely commanded to make identical observations as the Spartan.
The release of Spartan today and its subsequent retrieval just after 8 p.m. Sunday will be done using the shuttle’s robot arm, which will be operated by mission specialist Kalpana Chawla.
The one-day delay in deploying Spartan does not impact other planned activities during the flight, including Monday’s spacewalk by mission specialists Winston Scott and Takao Doi. The spacewalk is designed to test assembly techniques for the International Space Station. Doi will become the first Japanese astronaut to walk in space.
Once the satellite is released, commander Kevin Kregel and pilot Steve Lindsey will slowly back Columbia away from Spartan. For the first three to five orbits after release, the shuttle will maintain a distance of between five and 10 nautical miles to allow for a communications demonstration sending real-time telemetry and data from the satellite to the ground. During the next two days a series of rendezvous maneuvers will maintain a safe distance between the two spacecraft until Sunday’s approach and capture of the satellite for the return trip to Earth.
Ukrainian payload specialist Leonid Kadenyuk will once again spend the day conducting studies involving plant growth in weightlessness with the Collaborative Ukrainian Experiment, or CUE. He’ll focus his attention on this experiment for much of the duration of the flight.
There are no systems problems aboard Columbia on its 24th mission in space. It is operating at an altitude of 283 kilometers, or about 276 statute miles, above the Earth.
The next status report will be issued at about 6 p.m. Friday.
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