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Bright lights, Hale-Bopp and Hubble


Shuttle crew holds news conference ahead of nighttime landing

February 20, 1997
Web posted at: 9:30 a.m. EST

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(CNN) -- NASA's Hubble tuneup crew hung up their spacesuits Thursday and prepared for a rare nighttime landing. The seven astronauts from space shuttle Discovery are scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Friday morning after a 10-day mission to modernize the $2 billion observatory.

Forecasters predicted generally favorable weather for the shuttle's planned touchdown at 1:50 a.m. (0650 GMT).

The only concern was for the chance of showers within 35 miles (56 km) of the runway. Conditions were forecast to worsen on Saturday.

Flight controllers said gusty winds could be a problem at the backup landing site, Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Better vision for nighttime landing

In preparation for the overnight homecoming, mission commander Ken Bowersox and co-pilot Scott Horowitz test-fired Discovery's maneuvering jets and powered up the hydraulic system.

Discovery's landing would be only the ninth in the history of the shuttle program to take place in darkness.

Bowersox's landing will be aided by the recent installation of 52 halogen lights down the center of the shuttle's nearly three-mile (4,572-meter) runway.

Shuttle commanders requested the modification to help them keep the gliding shuttle lined up for a perfect touchdown. "It's a little bit tougher (at night) to judge our lineup with the runway," said Bowersox, posed with his six fellow space travelers during a Thursday morning air-to-ground news conference. icon (638K/29 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

NASA officials said they expected nighttime and low-light dawn landings to become more commonplace.

Hale-Bopp sighting

Asked about comet Hale-Bopp, due to pass Earth in late March at a distance of 123 million miles, astronaut Steven Hawley said the Discovery crew "downlinked some video (Thursday) morning."

But "the TV cameras don't do it justice," when compared with viewing the comet directly from the shuttle itself, he said. icon (689K/31 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Hale-Bopp appears to have two tails, one of them three times longer than the other, Hawley said.

High hopes for repaired Hubble


Discovery blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center before dawn on February 11, catching up with Hubble two days later. Night after night, four astronauts spacewalked to install two $100-million-plus science instruments and new electronics and data recorders.

A fifth spacewalk was added so the astronauts could hang homemade patches over tears and cracks they discovered in Hubble's insulation, caused by the sun and extreme temperature changes during seven years in orbit.

The first images from the upgraded telescope are to be released in May. "My expectation is that ... we'll be very pleased with the results," Hawley said.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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