Shuttle space walks -- only as needed

December 14, 1993|By Orlando Sentinel

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- If watching last week's record-setting space walks on television left you gasping for air, don't hold your breath waiting for more such fireworks from NASA's shuttle program.

With the return yesterday of the space shuttle Endeavour from its successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA doesn't need to send an astronaut through a shuttle's air lock again until . . . the next Hubble maintenance flight, tentatively set for late 1996.

Between now and then, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is planning two-dozen shuttle flights, but most involve scientific missions, using instruments to monitor Earth's environment or conducting experiments in the shuttles' removable Spacelab module.

Not one requires a space walk.

"This has been an exciting mission, because everybody could almost participate with the astronauts," Jeremiah Pearson, NASA's chief of space flight, said after Endeavour landed at Kennedy Space Center yesterday. "We're not going to be able to do that all the time."

Which isn't to say NASA won't have space walks. To maintain a minimum level of "extra-vehicular activity" -- NASA jargon for space walks -- the agency wants at least two "practice" space walks a year starting in 1994.

An agreement with the Russians to send between five and 10 shuttles to the Mir space station starting in 1995 could lead to additional space walks in preparation for work on a joint U.S.-Russian space station.

Some upcoming flights will have their interesting moments -- such as the deployment and retrieval of a disk-shaped satellite during the next shuttle flight, set for late January -- but none will have the high-stakes, reputation-on-the-line drama of the Hubble mission.

"We have to keep proceeding ahead with the schedule we have and looking forward to the space station in the future," Mr. Pearson said.

Endeavour's 12:26 a.m. return to Earth -- only the second nighttime landing at the Kennedy Space Center -- went as smoothly as the rest of the 11-day mission.

The four space walkers among Endeavour's seven-member crew spent more than 35 hours altogether in the shuttle's cargo bay to make 10 separate repairs to the $1.5 billion Hubble telescope.

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