Ldef Comes Home

As they gained their first glimpse of the satellite, Columbia's crew noticed it had suffered some damage during its six years in orbit: a small solar panel had apparently dislodged itself and was flying in formation and a number of holes - apparently caused by micrometeoroid impacts - were evident. After retrieval, the Interim Operational Contamination Monitor (IOCM), an instrument attached to the starboard payload bay wall, close to the forward bulkhead, would reveal that the LDEF also emitted a large amount of particulate debris.

Dunbar focused the RMS wrist camera on the LDEF's starboard side and prepared to grapple it. Brandenstein then performed a yaw manoeuvre to align the wrist camera with the LDEF's grapple fixture. By this point, the satellite was 'above' Columbia's cabin as the pilots maintained formation with their quarry in an inverted orientation. When she saw the grapple fixture in the monitor for the wrist camera, Dunbar went for the kill. She rotated the camera 180 degrees to the correct retrieval position and, at 3:16:05 pm, as Columbia flew over the Atlantic Ocean near Brazil on her 50th orbit, grasped the satellite.

''Houston, Columbia,'' radioed Brandenstein, ''we have LDEF,'' as wire snares in the Canadian-built arm's end effector closed around the satellite's grapple fixture.

''You've made many scientists very happy their LDEF experiments are finally coming home,'' replied Capcom Jernigan over the sound of applause in Mission Control. It was the first of many accolades for Columbia's crew that day. Lead Flight Director Al Pennington called it ''the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people'', while NASA Administrator Dick Truly - who had first put the RMS through its paces as an astronaut himself more than eight years earlier - expressed his admiration as he ''watched America's space programme at its best''.

According to the LDEF's chief scientist, William Kinard, ''The investigators are scattered around the world and we heard comments from them as far away as Australia and Europe. They are extremely excited.'' Immediately after the retrieval, Columbia's computers commanded the RMS to align the LDEF with the payload bay walls' berthing guides and Dunbar took control of the arm to lower the satellite gently into position at 8:49 pm. ''It looks like LDEF is going to join us for the ride home,'' said Bill Reeves from Mission Control after it had been successfully anchored in the payload bay.

Marsha Ivins, meanwhile, had spent the past four-and-a-half hours painstakingly photographing every surface of the satellite for the engineers' benefit. To help her, Dunbar rotated the LDEF slowly on the end of the RMS. By the time the day's work was completed and the RMS stowed, the crew had been awake for almost 17 hours, but according to Brandenstein, ''all the faces up here are smiling and happy''. Clearly, the triumph had lifted their spirits; to such an extent, in fact, that next morning they transmitted a cartoon picture to Mission Control showing the LDEF literally imprisoned by overgrown tomato seeds!

"We saw something strange,'' grinned Brandenstein, "so we got it on the video recorder and thought we would show it to you.'' The cartoon was a light-hearted reference to more than 12 million tomato seeds flown by students on board the LDEF, which had seemingly overgrown after their longer-than-planned stay in orbit. With both primary objectives of their mission - deployment of Leasat and retrieval of the LDEF - now satisfactorily accomplished, the crew settled down to what would turn out to be just over a week of scientific and medical experiments.

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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