KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — The space shuttle Endeavour's astronauts completed their first big job in orbit Friday, releasing a satellite to study charged particles hurtling from the sun that can disrupt radio communications and electrical systems on Earth.
For two days, the $8-million satellite, called Spartan, will observe the so-called solar wind blowing from the sun.
Astronaut Michael Gernhardt used Endeavour's 50-foot crane to lift the shiny, boxy Spartan from the shuttle's cargo bay 24 hours into the flight. The 2,800-pound satellite did a slow pirouette and the shuttle backed away.
The five astronauts will retrieve the satellite Sunday for the trip home. Then they will release another satellite for two days of free flight, this one to produce ultra-thin film for semiconductors in the pure vacuum created in the craft's wake.
Spartan's observations will coincide with those of the European solar probe, Ulysses.
By combining the observations of Spartan and Ulysses, scientists hope to understand why the sun, like other stars, emits streams of ionized gas that flow through the solar system at nearly 2 million m.p.h.
The astronauts had to work around equipment snags Friday, including a bad computer and balky radar system.