Weather Threatens to Put Damper on Shuttle Launch

Times Science Writer

As crews prepared for this morning’s scheduled launch of the space shuttle Discovery, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was hoping Sunday night for a change in poor weather that threatened to delay the blastoff.

Air Force officials said late Sunday that the weather should clear up in time for the launch, which was scheduled for 4:33 a.m. PDT. But advisories were issued late Sunday to residents here, where it has been raining for the last several days, warning them to report any peculiar cloud formations to law enforcement agencies.

Shortly after the warnings were issued Sunday night, lightning struck the launch pad, but NASA said there was no damage and the countdown proceeded.

Officials were particularly worried because any delay could further jeopardize an ambitious schedule of once-a-month launches for the rest of the year.


The Discovery is to launch three satellites, one owned by Mexico, one owned by the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and one owned by 21 Arab nations and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Abdullah Dabbagh, science adviser to the Arabian Communications Satellite organization, said in an interview that the controversial PLO owns only two of 2,000 shares in the satellite. Saudi Arabia, the principal shareholder, owns just under 30%, he said.

This will be an international mission with crew members from three nations.

Patrick Baudry, 39, of France, and Prince Sultan ibn Salman al Saud of Saudi Arabia will be the first members of their respective countries to fly aboard an American space shuttle.

The other crew members include Daniel C. Brandenstein, 42, the Discovery’s commander, and John O. Creighton, 42, the pilot. Shannon W. Lucid, 42, a biochemist, is the only woman aboard. Steven R. Nagel, 38, and John M. Fabian, 46, are assigned as mission specialists.


If the weather clears and all goes well, the flight should give Prince Sultan a temporary edge over all other members of the Muslim world.

The prince should be able to see the moon set a few minutes before anyone on Earth on Tuesday because of his higher altitude. That would make it possible for him to proclaim the end of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim year, setting off celebrations around the Muslim world.

According to Islamic law, the first Muslim who sees the moon set on that night has the right to issue the proclamation if he can get two other Muslims to testify to his strength of character. That should be no problem for the prince, who is a nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd.