The Chandra X-Ray Observatory is flying free of the Shuttle Columbia following a textbook deployment earlier this morning and the successfully firing of its Inertial Upper Stage booster to place the new telescope on course for an orbit which will take it almost one-third of the way to the moon for its astronomical investigations.
A little more than seven hours after Columbia and its five astronauts were launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Chandra was spring-ejected from a cradle in the shuttle’s cargo bay at 6:47 a.m. Central time, as Columbia flew over the Indonesian Island chain. Commander Eileen Collins, the first female Shuttle Commander, maneuvered Columbia to a safe distance away from the telescope as an internal timer counted down to the first of a two-phase ignition of the solid-fuel Inertial Upper Stage.
The IUS lit up as scheduled at 7:47 a.m., and a few minutes later, shut down as planned, sending Chandra on a highly elliptical orbit which will be refined over the next few weeks by a series of firings of telescope thrusters, designed to place Chandra in an orbit about 6900 x 87,000 statute miles above the Earth.
After the IUS’ second stage shut down, Chandra’s solar arrays deployed at 8:22 a.m. on command from telescope controllers at the Chandra Operations Control Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who will oversee the activation of the observatory’s systems and its scientific activities. The IUS then separated from Chandra at 8:49 a.m. CDT, establishing it with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory as the third in a series of four astronomical instruments designed by NASA to paint a comprehensive portrait of the unknown mysteries of the universe.
With Chandra safely on its way and the major objective of their mission successfully completed, the astronauts will end their long day and begin an eight-hour sleep period at 10:31 a.m. Central time. They’ll be awakened at 6:31 tonight to begin their second day in orbit, a day devoted to secondary experiments in the shuttle’s middeck area.
Columbia is flying smoothly on in an orbit 187 x 176 miles above the Earth, circling the planet every 90 minutes with its systems operating in excellent shape.
The next STS-93 status report will be issued at approximately 6:00 p.m. Central time Friday, July 23.
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