Countdown On for Discovery Flight Monday

Times Science Writer

Despite gray skies and occasional rain, the countdown went forward Saturday for the launching of the space shuttle Discovery and a three-nation crew Monday on the most international flight in the history of the U.S. space program.

The shuttle is scheduled to blast off at 4:33 a.m. PST, with a crew that will include the first Arabian prince to fly in space and a French astronaut who trained for two years with the Soviets but who will become the first Frenchman in space by traveling instead aboard an American spacecraft.

During the seven-day flight, the crew will launch three satellites: one American, one Mexican and one Arabian. The Arabian satellite was built in France.

The Discovery will land at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California early Monday, June 24. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has shifted all shuttle landings to the more forgiving landing strips at Edwards until continuing problems with brakes can be resolved.


Test for Tracking System

This flight will also mark NASA’s growing involvement in military operations with an experiment for the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, the so-called “Star Wars” project. A low-energy laser in Maui will try to track the shuttle as it passes overhead in part of a series of experiments designed to determine if lasers can identify and follow “targets” traveling through space.

This will be the 18th flight in the shuttle program, and the attempt to launch three commercial satellites will give NASA a chance to demonstrate whether it can beat the growing international competition for commercial satellite launches. Success during this flight could help NASA convince potential customers that recent satellite failures should be blamed on vendors who built the satellites for commercial customers and not on the space agency.

The Discovery will be commanded by Navy Capt. Daniel C. Brandenstein. The crew includes Prince Sultan ibn Salman al Saud, 28, nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, and Patrick Baudry, the French astronaut who will carry out experiments on the human body’s adaptability to weightlessness. Other crew members are John O. Creighton, pilot; and Shannon W. Lucid, John M. Fabian and Steven R. Nagel, mission specialists.