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Shuttle astronauts lament loss of satellite

Shuttle crew

February 27, 1996
Web posted at: 12:00 a.m. EST

(CNN) -- Astronauts aboard the space shuttle Columbia expressed disappointment Monday over the failure of a multi- million-dollar experiment to generate electricity in space. (306K AIFF sound or 306K WAV sound)

The international team of astronauts was painstakingly launching a satellite on a slender 12-mile tether Sunday when the tether suddenly severed, sending the satellite reeling irretrievably into space. (306K AIFF sound or 306K WAV sound)

The experiment was part of a project to generate electricity by moving the copper-filled tether and half-ton satellite through the earth's magnetic field. Scientists hoped to use information from the project to power a future space station.

"Scientists have lost a lot, and I deeply feel for them."

--Shuttle Commander Andrew Allen

"Scientists have lost a lot, and I deeply feel for them," said Columbia Commander Andrew Allen during a news conference from the shuttle orbiting 185 miles above the earth.

Tethered satellite

"We were looking forward to demonstrating that we could actually retrieve a satellite from 20 kilometers ... and we've put an incredible amount of work in it," said Allen who was joined by his six fellow shuttle astronauts to answer questions about the failed experiment.

Despite the bitter disappointment of having lost the $400- million-plus project in space, the astronauts said the sight of the wayward satellite flying into space, like some errant kite, was fascinating and even beautiful. (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound)

"As long as the sun was out, the satellite was always clearly visible as a glowing star on the end of the tether, quite beautiful, " said astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, the first on board to notice the tether had snapped.

The astronauts were fascinated by the spectacle (247K AIFF sound or 247K WAV sound) and scrambled to take pictures of what Hoffman described as a "big, huge jumble of tether moving way from us with no end on it."

Hoffman was on a similar 1992 mission which also failed after the tethered satellite was extended only about 800 feet.

Tether cable

Pictures of the frayed tether broadcast to Earth do not yet explain why the line broke when it was almost fully extended at 12-plus miles.

"At this time we're not able to speculate at the cause of the tether break, " David Wolf a spokesman for Mission Control in Houston told the crew. "We are really in the data-gathering mode. And the teams are assembling for the thorough review, and we will all have a lot to do with that when you get back."

After the tether broke Sunday, the astronauts shut down the experiment on board the shuttle. They now believe they can turn their equipment back on from the ground, and get more information from the satellite's equipment.

On the ground, project manager Lee Briscoe said there is hope the satellite can be commanded to come on again.

"We haven't given up on trying to get still more scientific data from the satellite," he said.

A rescue of the satellite is too dangerous to pursue because the 12-mile tether still attached to the satellite could possibly wrap around the space shuttle during a recovery mission. According to NASA, the lost satellite will eventually fall toward Earth and burn up in the atmosphere..

As the shuttle continues traveling around the world at 17,500 mph, the astronauts are back on their regular schedule conducting their science experiments in their on-board lab.

Their mission has returned to its original two-week time schedule. They'll be landing in Florida on March 7.

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