Shuttle scheduled to blast off with commercial lab aboard

June 20, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The space shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center at 9:38 a.m. EDT today, carrying a payload that will inch the nation closer to the elusive goal of developing a commercial space industry.

Workers tried to pinpoint the source of a helium leak in the shuttle's engine compartment on Friday afternoon, but the problem was not considered serious and is not expected to delay the launch today, NASA officials said.

Bolted into the Endeavour's cargo bay is the world's first commercial space laboratory, owned by SPACEHAB Inc., a Virginia-based company that spent $200 million to develop and build the 9-foot-long, 11-foot-tall pressurized chamber.

The facility quadruples the space shuttle's available space for experiments.

Eventually, SPACEHAB intends to sell space in its laboratory to private companies that want to conduct research on the behavior of industrial materials and processes in a weightless environment.

But on its first voyage, SPACEHAB's Space Research Laboratory is carrying 21 experiments paid for by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and one by the European Space Agency.

"My analogy is that it's like a shopping mall," said John Pike, who heads the space policy project for the Federation of American Scientists.

"NASA is the big store at one end of the mall, and all the specialty stores are empty. The question is, will NASA as the anchor store create a market that will allow you to lease out all the specialty stores?"

According to David Rossi, SPACEHAB vice president, the answer is yes.

"The other part of the analogy," Mr. Rossi said, "is that it's difficult to sell space for those boutiques if people don't know the main store is open yet."

In addition to monitoring the experiments aboard SPACEHAB, the six Endeavour astronauts are scheduled to retrieve the European Space Agency's 9,800-pound EURECA satellite on the fourth day of their eight-day flight.

The satellite, devoted largely to research involving industrial materials, life science and radiobiology, was launched last July 31 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

It was designed to be retrieved with the shuttle's mechanical arm, and as a result is unlikely to pose the kind of problems astronauts have faced in the past as they tried to grapple other satellites into the shuttle's cargo bay.

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