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Shuttle Launched, Beginning NASA’s Study of Stratosphere

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The space shuttle Discovery and a crew of five astronauts rumbled into a pale evening sky here Thursday, beginning a five-day mission inaugurating what NASA calls its environmental era.

The crew’s chief mission is to release the 14,500-pound Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, the centerpiece of the space agency’s Mission to Planet Earth program, a $740-million project to study the stratosphere.

The satellite will be placed in orbit midway through the shuttle mission. From its perch 350 miles above the Earth, the satellite will sample upper-region gases and winds while probing the damage fluorocarbons and other pollutants have caused to the fragile ozone layer.

Of particular interest is the “hole” in the protective ozone layer over the Antarctic, and readings on global warming trends.

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An unusually large crowd lined the causeways and roadsides of the marshy plain on the Central Florida coast to witness the rare early evening blastoff.

On board were shuttle commander John O. Creighton, 48, a Navy pilot making his third flight, space rookie Kenneth S. Reightler, 40, and veterans Charles D. Gemar, 36, James F. Buchli, 46, and Mark N. Brown, 40.

Also aboard are eight rats being used in a gravity study, which researchers hope will shed light on the problem of muscle wasting in bedridden patients.

The launching of Discovery is the year’s fifth shuttle mission and the 43rd manned orbital flight since the first, a Columbia mission, went up April 12, 1981. As with the last shuttle mission in August, the Discovery’s primary landing site is the Kennedy Space Center. Discovery is expected to land Wednesday night.

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