Shuttle Can’t Salvage Solar Experiment
NASA gave up hope Sunday of salvaging the Spartan solar science mission because of dwindling fuel supplies aboard the space shuttle Columbia.
Spacewalking astronauts rescued the Spartan spacecraft last Monday after a botched release left it spinning in space. Scientists had hoped that it could be set free a second time to accomplish at least some of its mission, but Columbia was too low on fuel to make the attempt, mission operations director Lee Briscoe said.
NASA had hoped to release the $10-million Spartan satellite for 18 hours, less than half the time it was supposed to fly free of Columbia and observe the sun’s charged outer atmosphere.
Spartan turned out to be nothing but trouble for the astronauts, possibly through their own fault.
Due to either a software problem or crew error, the satellite failed to receive a crucial computer command before it was set loose Nov. 21, Briscoe said. When astronaut Kalpana Chawla then tried to grab the satellite with the shuttle robot arm, she inadvertently sent it into a slow spin.
To scientists’ dismay, no solar observations could be made.
Flight controllers had tried to conserve enough fuel for a possible re-release toward the end of Columbia’s mission, but by Sunday the shuttle was short of what was needed.
“It just wasn’t enough,” Briscoe said at a news conference. “The management team decided we would forgo another deploy and retrieval of Spartan.
“Spartan, we believe, is in good shape. We’ll bring it back, see if there’s anything we can learn from it,” Briscoe said.
“I think the guys were even talking today about if we bring it back, they may not even have to disassemble it or take the instruments apart. They think they could be ready to fly very quickly.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has no firm plans to send Spartan back up on another shuttle mission.