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Shuttle Gives Space Station a Boost

May 24, 2000|From Associated Press

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Astronauts popped a pair of fresh batteries into the international space station Tuesday and gave the complex a badly needed orbital lift.

For months, the space station has been dropping 1 1/2 miles a week, and it is depending on the attached space shuttle Atlantis for a 28-mile boost.

The station-raising will be spread over three days. The first 10-mile installment took place Tuesday night.

Atlantis' commander, James Halsell Jr., fired the shuttle steering jets 27 times over the course of an hour. The solar wings on the station swayed ever so slightly as the 135-ton shuttle-station stack was nudged into an oval-shaped orbit with a low point of 212 miles and a high point of 219 miles.

"It was basically bang on the money," Mission Control said. "Perfectly done."

Halsell will give the thrusters time to cool before doing it again Wednesday night.

The space station had dipped to a low of 202 miles above the Earth's surface because of increased solar activity, a natural phenomenon that causes the atmosphere to expand and spacecraft to sink.

NASA could have used the space station's thrusters to raise the altitude, but did not want to tap into the limited supply of fuel.

That reluctance stems, in large part, from Russia's continual delays in launching a propulsion and guidance module that should be up there keeping a steady orbit. The latest launch date for the so-called service module is in July. That's more than two years behind schedule.

Russia is also responsible for the space station's power shortage. Careless overcharging by flight controllers in Moscow left the station with only two good batteries out of six.

Within several hours of entering the space station late Monday, astronaut Susan Helms and cosmonaut Yuri Usachev had replaced two bad batteries. It was familiar work for Usachev, a former resident of Mir, the Russian space station.

"They really worked this down to a science, like a pit crew working on a race car," said flight director Phil Engelauf.

By the time Atlantis undocks on Friday, NASA hopes to have restored full electrical power to the space station with the installation of four new batteries and associated parts.

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