The countdown for launching Columbia this weekend proceeded smoothly Wednesday, amid worries over the lengthy interval between shuttle flights and numerous other problems besetting NASA.
“There’s anxiety,” mission scientist Ted Gull said. “NASA needs to be successful.”
Columbia is scheduled to lift off at 1:17 a.m. Saturday, with a crew of seven and the $150-million Astro observatory.
It will be the space agency’s second attempt to launch Columbia on the mission. The shuttle was supposed to go up on May 30, but hydrogen escaped during fueling and the flight was called off.
If all goes well, Columbia will be the first shuttle to fly since Discovery carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit in April. The interval between those missions is the longest since flights were resumed after the 1986 Challenger explosion.
The Astro observatory’s three ultraviolet telescopes and one X-ray telescope are to provide a look at some of the hottest objects in the universe.