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Saving Satellites Is Becoming a Fisher Family Specialty

August 31, 1985|LEE DYE | Times Science Writer

HOUSTON — For Bill and Anna Fisher, rescuing stranded satellites in space is a family affair.

Anna, 36, operated the mechanical arm aboard the Discovery when the shuttle retrieved two disabled satellites and returned them to Earth last November.

Today, her husband, William F., 39, will be one of two astronauts trying to capture and "hot wire" a dormant satellite during space walks as the Discovery orbits the Earth. The task may require a second space walk Sunday.

'Something to Share'

"It was a complete coincidence" that both ended up with similar assignments aboard similar flights, Anna Fisher said in an interview at the Johnson Space Center here. They had been scheduled for different kinds of missions, but both assignments were changed because of the malfunctioning satellites. The similarity in their roles, she said, has given them "something to share."

"It's really neat," said Anna, a 1967 graduate of San Pedro High School and the daughter of Mrs. Riley F. Tingle of San Pedro.

Both Fishers are medical doctors, and both interned at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance.

As a surgeon, Bill Fisher will be credited with the first bypass operation in space--a mechanical one--when he implants two electronic boxes in the disabled satellite, allowing ground controllers to try to start the $85-million craft.

Similar Satellites

During her flight last November, Anna pushed the button to release one in a series of Leasat satellites. That satellite was identical to one deployed from the Discovery five months later that failed to activate itself, the one her husband will be working on today.

"I believe he has a real difficult job," said Anna, who received her medical degree from UCLA in 1976.

The satellite was not designed to be rescued, and Fisher will have to install electrical fittings on it at several points after it is wrestled into position by fellow astronaut James D. van Hoften, 41.

"He has a lot of connections to make, and none of them were designed for an EVA (space walk)," she said. "It's like trying to do a fine task with thick gloves on your hands."

She said her husband worked out with weights for three months before the flight to be sure he would be strong enough for the task.

"He put on 25 or 30 pounds of pure muscle," she said. "I don't know if he will need it, but he's got it."

Further Complications

Fisher's job will be further complicated by problems with the mechanical arm aboard the Discovery. Early in the flight, an electronic circuit in the arm's elbow joint was damaged, severely reducing the arm's manageability.

Normally, the operator tells the arm where to go by moving two hand controls aboard the spacecraft. A computer determines how to move the three joints in the arm--corresponding to a shoulder, an elbow and a wrist--in order to put the "hand" where the operator wants it. But now astronaut John M. Lounge will have to guide each joint individually by manipulating a series of controls from aboard the Discovery.

Second Trip Seen

Officials with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expect that reduced efficiency to add several hours to the task, so that it may require a second trip outside on Sunday.

Discovery commander Joe Engle, 53, and pilot Richard O. Covey, 39, were to bring the craft alongside the satellite early this morning and begin the salvage attempt at around 5 a.m.

The Discovery will land at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California early in the morning of the second day after the salvage is completed.

Some time after that, the Fishers will get back to what they consider a normal life. Bill will resume his duties as a part-time emergency room doctor in a local hospital. Anna has given up similar responsibilities in the same hospital to devote more time to their daughter, Kristin, 2.

And both will begin getting ready for their next space flights. Anna is to go in June, Bill in July--three weeks apart.

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