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Astronauts Trail Orbiting Telescope

September 18, 1993|From Associated Press

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Discovery's astronauts pursued an orbiting telescope Friday with the intent of capturing it this weekend--the last major job of their flight.

The five-member shuttle crew dropped off the ultraviolet telescope Monday for nearly a week of star observations.

Discovery had been flying ahead of the telescope, but moved in behind it Friday through a series of jet firings.

Commander Frank Culbertson Jr. and his crew easily spotted the platform holding the telescope and a spectrograph as the shuttle passed four miles overhead. The craft appeared as an extremely bright light.

Discovery will trail the U.S.-German research satellite by about 35 miles until Sunday's rendezvous.

Astronaut Daniel Bursch is supposed to grab the craft with the shuttle's robot arm and stow it in the payload bay for Tuesday's trip home.

The instruments so far have observed about five dozen objects, mostly stars, up to 6 billion light years away, German principal investigator Michael Grewing said.

Hastily added to Friday night's observation lineup was a nova discovered this week by amateur astronomers in Chile and Japan. A nova is the result of a pair of binary stars in which part of the atmosphere from one falls onto the surface of the other, resulting in a surface thermonuclear explosion that vastly increases the star's brightness.

"As we happen to be up in space, it's one opportunity for us to go into this though we may not see anything," Grewing said. "It is known from previous studies . . . that ultraviolet radiation is escaping from these objects possibly only after several weeks and we are just a few days after the beginning of the outburst."

The astronauts spent flight day six working on secondary experiments. They opened the lids of two cargo bay cans to expose materials inside to the corrosive effects of atomic oxygen and tested the navigation accuracy of a Global Positioning System satellite receiver. A similar receiver will be used by a shuttle crew to dock with Russia's Mir space station in 1995.

They also conducted medical tests, including one to monitor digestion that they dubbed "Spit, Pee and Burp." It involved collecting saliva and urine samples.

At the space center, meanwhile, NASA workers moved the shuttle Columbia to the launch pad. Columbia is due to lift off in mid-October on a 14-day science mission.

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