Discovery Thunders Into Space : Puts $100-Million Global Network Satellite in Orbit

From Associated Press

Discovery’s five astronauts thundered into a weather-delayed orbit today and successfully released the final $100-million satellite in a globe-spanning network that will let spacefarers call Mission Control at almost any time.

In a spectacular start of NASA’s ambitious plan to fly seven shuttle missions in 1989, Discovery made a fiery leap from its seaside launch pad and then raced out of view across a clear Florida sky. The craft slipped smoothly into orbit with five astronauts, the communications satellite and experiments that include four rats with broken legs and 32 chicken eggs.

“It’s a great start to a long launch season,” launch director Bob Sieck told a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center.

The 9:57 a.m. EST liftoff was an hour and 50 minutes later than planned. Early morning fog--so dense it obscured the launch pad from just a short distance away--caused some delay, but the major problem was winds five miles overhead. Officials feared powerful shear forces could tear the spacecraft apart as it raced upward faster than the speed of sound.

Computer Reprogrammed

To compensate for the winds, a computer aboard Discovery was quickly reprogrammed to adjust the ship’s flight angle, and the stalled countdown clock was restarted and then ticked without hesitation to liftoff.


Michael L. Coats, a 43-year-old Navy captain, is Discovery’s commander, and Air Force Col. John E. Blaha, 46, is the pilot. Others in the crew are Marine Cols. James F. Buchli, 43, and Robert C. Springer, 46, and Dr. James M. Bagian, 36, a physician. Coats and Buchli have flown on previous shuttle flights.

Once in orbit, the astronauts prepared the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite for its release into an independent orbit.

The 2 1/2-ton satellite was tested electronically while secured in Discovery’s cargo bay.

“It looked very good from up here,” Bagian reported after he had thrown switches to send power to the satellite. “It looked very crisp.”

Televised views from space showed the huge satellite filling most of the cargo bay.

The satellite was then tilted upright in the cargo bay and ejected into space on its own.

After Coats moved Discovery a safe distance away, a first stage rocket on TDRS drilled the satellite into a higher orbit. A second rocket firing five hours later was to send it streaking to a permanent communications post 22,300 miles above the Atlantic Ocean.