Telescope revived and scheduled for flight Scientists to correct problems with Astro telescope for '93 mission.

May 21, 1991|By Marina Sarris and Frank D. Roylance | Marina Sarris and Frank D. Roylance,Evening Sun Staff

The Astro space telescope, which seemed doomed by budget cuts, has been revived and scheduled for a second space shuttle flight.

The budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was "scrubbed down" to find enough money for an Astro-2 mission in 1993, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said yesterday.

Astro was designed to explore some of the hottest and most violent regions of space, which generate radiation in the X-ray and ultraviolet wavelengths that cannot be observed from the ground.

With a 1993 flight date, "there's a good chance [Astro-2] will go on the brand new shuttle, the Endeavour," Mikulski said at a news conference at Johns Hopkins University, where scientists developed one of the original four Astro telescopes.

The $148 million Astro Observatory was launched on board the shuttle Columbia last December. NASA canceled subsequent Astro missions because of budget constraints.

The flight came after 12 years of planning and 4 1/2 years of flight delays caused by the loss of the shuttle Challenger, rescheduling and delays of subsequent shuttle flights.

Officials found the $30 million for a second Astro mission, however, by trimming funds for unspecified, future projects, said Mikulski, an Astro supporter who is chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees NASA's budget. "It was not in the taxpayers' best interests to jettison" a developed program like Astro, she said.

Hopkins stands to see as much as $5 million from the Astro-2 project.

Several dozen scientists, including about 20 from Hopkins, will work on the project and seek to correct problems that developed during Astro's nine-day flight last December.

Computer failures, telescope-pointing problems and a wastewater system failure plagued that flight. Scientists on the shuttle and on the ground managed to work around most of the difficulties and completed about 135 of the planned 250 observations.

Early reports on the scientific results of that mission have been greeted enthusiastically by astronomers, increasing the clamor to preserve the telescopes for future flights.

Astro was designed to be flown repeatedly, with the telescopes riding in the shuttle's cargo bay instead of being released into orbit like the Hubble Space Telescope. Each mission was to have built upon the discoveries of the ones before.

Besides carrying the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope, the first Astro mission included two other Maryland-built instruments -- the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope and the Broad Band X-ray Telescope -- that were developed at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

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