The crew of the space shuttle Discovery spent Labor Day working toward their return to Earth today, after learning that their labors of the last few days appear to be paying off.
Three communications satellites launched by the crew early in the flight are well on their way to their permanent positions 22,300 miles above the Earth, and the disabled satellite they retrieved and repaired was emerging from deep freeze with all systems indicating success.
Small maneuvering jets on the satellite were fired for the first time Monday, to increase the repaired Leasat 3 satellite’s spin rate and improve its stability. Engineers at Hughes Communications in El Segundo also reported that the batteries aboard had charged and the temperatures aboard the satellite--a matter of great concern--were within tolerances.
“Everything looks at least as good, if not better, than expected,” Mission Control in Houston told the astronauts.
“Well, you know we’re glad to hear that,” answered William F. Fisher, who, along with James D. van Hoften, spent two days working on the satellite outside the Discovery.
Crucial Test to Come
The ultimate test, however, is still about two months away, when the satellite’s main rocket is to be fired. There is some concern that the rocket may explode at that time, although engineers at Hughes said they are extremely encouraged by the results so far.
Discovery commander Joe Engle and pilot Richard O. Covey fired the shuttle’s main maneuvering rockets briefly early Monday to raise the ship’s orbit about 10 miles. That was expected to be enough to bring the shuttle down at 6:15 a.m. today, nine minutes before sunrise, as the predawn light illuminates the desert runway at Edwards.