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Countdown resumes for controversial Cassini launch

Cassini October 14, 1997
Web posted at: 5:32 p.m. EDT (2132 GMT)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) -- The countdown resumed Tuesday for the launch of NASA's controversial Cassini probe to Saturn after engineers fixed a technical problem at the launch pad.

NASA has rescheduled the beginning of the $3.4 billion mission to explore the ringed planet for 4:43 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

Cassini's Titan 4B rocket was supposed to have left Monday, but was delayed by a problem with a battery testing device on the launch pad, minor computer glitches and high upper-level winds that posed a safety threat in the event of an explosion during launch.

"The weather forecast is generally favorable and technical concerns surrounding Monday's countdown have been resolved," NASA spokesman George Diller said.

Air force meteorologists were forecasting an 80 percent chance of fair weather for liftoff Wednesday morning.

Cassini's plutonium-power source has generated controversy over whether the mission should be considered a threat to most of Florida's 14 million residents.

NASA officials say the chance of an accident causing the release of the radioactive plutonium is one-in-1,400. Anti-nuclear activists, who contend that any risk is too high, say the space agency has its figures wrong.

The probe has until November 4 to embark on its 2.2 billion mile expedition. A launch after then would expend more of its valuable maneuvering fuel, extend its journey by up to two years and reduce its science-gathering capability once it arrived at Saturn.

Cassini is scheduled to spend four years touring Saturn's system of rings and moons and will drop a European-built probe onto the surface of its largest moon, Titan.

Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

Special Section: The Cassini Mission

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