Shuttle Flight Takes On Air of Mystery

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United Press International

Discovery commander Thomas Mattingly reported Friday that the first clandestine space shuttle flight was going well, but there was no word on whether the big spy satellite carried aloft had been deployed.

When the shuttle will return to the Kennedy Space Center also is a mystery. Even spaceport director Richard Smith said he did not know when landing would occur.

“I’m not going out of town over a two- or three-day trip until it gets back,” he said. “I don’t want to miss it.”


Sources said the mission is expected to last about four days, making a Monday afternoon landing likely, although a Tuesday return remains a possibility. Mission officials planned to give a 16-hour notice of landing time.

With communications from the shuttle blacked out to the public, the only information released from tight-lipped NASA and Air Force officials comes in terse status reports issued every eight hours.

In a morning update, Brian Welch in mission control in Houston said Mattingly, a veteran space flier, was pleased with the performance of Discovery.

“You’ve never seen a machine like this one,” Mattingly reportedly said in encoded communications with Houston.

With Mattingly aboard the Discovery were Loren Shriver, James Buchli, Ellison Onizuka and Gary Payton. All are military officers.

Defense sources said Discovery’s payload was an advanced “signals intelligence” satellite designed to listen in on Soviet military communications and monitor missile tests to ensure compliance with arms control agreements.


The satellite was attached to a $50-million rocket called an inertial upper stage--IUS for short--that was to propel the satellite toward a stationary orbit 22,300 miles above the Equator south of Russia. In such an orbit, the satellite’s orbital speed matches Earth’s rotation and the spacecraft remains over one area of the globe.

Because a similar rocket failed in 1983 and an identical unit is to fly on the next shuttle mission set for launch Feb 20, the Air Force promised to disclose the results of the rocket’s operation.

The shuttle Challenger is scheduled to make the next flight, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said it will be moved Feb. 1 to the rocket assembly building where two booster rockets and an external fuel tank will be attached. Challenger is to be hauled to the launching pad the next week.