Discovery’s crew released a second satellite today, a telescope package that will fly free of the Shuttle for two days to study the sun and the solar wind in a research effort that may help scientists better understand a phenomenon that sometimes can cause widespread disruptions of communications and power supplies on Earth.
Mission Specialist Steve Robinson, using Discovery’s robotic arm, lifted the Spartan satellite from the shuttle’s cargo bay and released it into orbit at 12:59 p.m. Central. A few minutes later, after a maneuver by the satellite indicated it was operating properly, Commander Curt Brown fired Discovery’s jets to move the Shuttle away from the free-flying observatory. Brown maintained a distance from six to 10 statute miles from the satellite for about nine hours while several tests of an experimental communications system on Spartan were conducted, using the Shuttle as a relay station. After a couple of minor problems early on, the communications link has worked well. Spartan normally requires no communications for its studies, and it is capable of performing all of its observations automatically and recording the data gathered onboard without any interaction with the ground.
Just before the crew goes to bed this evening, Brown will fire Discovery’s jets to further separate from Spartan, slowly moving out to a distance of more than 30 miles from the satellite. Spartan is scheduled to be retrieved by the Shuttle at 2:45 p.m. Central on Tuesday. Following the satellite release this afternoon, Brown and astronaut John Glenn took time out to speak with reporters at the Johnson Space Center, fielding questions about all aspects of the historic flight during a 40-minute press conference.
Discovery remains in excellent condition. The crew is scheduled to begin a sleep period at 10 p.m. Central tonight and awaken at 6 a.m. on Monday. During the night, Glenn and fellow Payload Specialist Chiaki Mukai will wear a host of sensors recording their movements and other information as part of the sleep research being conducted during the flight.
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