NASA: Hubble Comes Before Christmas
By Marcia Dunn, Aerospace Writer
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.--NASA made final preparations today to fly a space shuttle for the first time during Christmas in a bid to revive the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been out of action since mid-November.
NASA has three chances to launch Discovery -tonight, Friday night or Saturday night -before giving up for the year to avoid any potential Y2K problems. Liftoff is set for 9:18 p.m. Good weather was forecast.
"My team and the shuttle team are willing to give up their holidays to
do this," said Hubble program manager John Campbell.
Discovery's pilot, Scott Kelly, said: "I told my 5 -year-old daughter that we're going to point the telescope at the North Pole and take a picture of Santa Claus, so she's really excited about that prospect."
In 38 years of human spaceflight, NASA has flown only two missions over Christmas: Apollo 8 in 1968 and Skylab in 1973. Men flew to the moon for the first time on Apollo 8, and Skylab was a space station with a permanent crew.
Besides Discovery's seven astronauts, as many as 300 people will work to support the flight. Shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore said he has no idea how much that will cost in holiday overtime pay.
"That's another one of those things that I haven't even worried about,
because we're going to do it, and the cost is the cost and that's the way it is," he said.
As it is, NASA is spending close to $25 million a month to operate Hubble, whether it is working or not. The telescope stopped working a month ago when its pointing system failed.
NASA would have avoided its holiday predicament if Discovery had flown in October as planned. The mission was put on hold, and the entire shuttle fleet grounded, after an exposed wire caused a short circuit during Columbia's launch in July. A dented fuel pipe aboard Discovery further delayed the flight.
As late as Wednesday, NASA was poring over documents and X-rays to make sure Discovery's external fuel tank was safe to fly. NASA had just learned that the wrong material was used to weld pressurization lines for a tank being built, and officials wanted to make sure the material was not used for Discovery's tank. It wasn't.
Dittemore said some managers told him they sense that workers are disgruntled by the push to launch by year's end. But he said they are bothered by having their holiday plans spoiled, not because they feel rushed.
He also expects more Christmas missions, especially with the international space station under construction in orbit.
"It's not going to be uncommon in the future," he said, "and so we
better get used to that."