Shuttle launch scrubbed at Kennedy Space Center
July 20, 1999
(CNN) -- The first woman to command an American spacecraft is to be strapped into NASA's space shuttle Monday evening for an early Tuesday launch to release a massive, sophisticated X-ray telescope into Earth orbit.
Air Force Col. Eileen Collins, 42, will lead the crew on a mission to deploy the $1.5 billion dollar Chandra X-ray Observatory. Launch and mission operations costs for the next five years put the total price tag at $2.78 billion, making it one of NASA's costliest missions.
Shuttle weathermen in Florida said there's a 70 percent chance of favorable launch conditions for Columbia's 12:36 a.m. launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There is a chance of rain showers along the Florida coast.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to view the launch from the space center along with Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, and the U.S. Women's Soccer Team, victors in the recent World Cup competition.
The Chandra observatory is a sister satellite to the Hubble Space Telescope. The observatory and other experiments on the shuttle weigh about 50,000 pounds, making it the heaviest the shuttle has ever carried. Astronauts and astronomers call the five-day flight one of the most important scientific space missions in recent years.
Collins says she's hoping the mission will inspire more women to become astronauts. She says she overcame obstacles in her life through determination and her faith in God
The launch date marks the 30th anniversary of the first human footsteps on the moon -- made by Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong. The feat met a political challenge posed by President Kennedy in 1961.
Kennedy and his family is on the minds of many Americans this week as his only son John F. Kennedy Jr., along with his wife and sister-in-law, are presumed to have died in a plane crash Friday night in the ocean off Massachusetts.
Payload is one of NASA's major observatories
If all goes well on the NASA mission, Columbia also will release its 50,000-pound payload seven hours into the flight.
"This is not a trip to grandma's on a summer afternoon. We are launching a very heavy payload," said Ed Weiler, an administrator with NASA's office of space science.
Chandra is the third in NASA's series of four major observatories. It follows the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990 to study the universe's visible light. The next year, the Compton Space Observatory was launched to study gamma rays. After Chandra, NASA intends to launch the Space Infrared Telescope Facility in 2001 to generate heat profiles of the universe.
Crew trained for 15 months
"This mission is a dream come true for all of us, not just to fly on the shuttle but to fly on this very important mission," said Collins, an Elmira, New York, native who became an astronaut in 1990. The STS-93 commander previously flew on two shuttle missions to the Russian space station Mir.
The crew, which started training for the often-delayed mission 15 months ago, includes pilot Jeff Ashby, a U.S. Navy captain who will be making his first shuttle flight.
The shuttle also is loaded with experiments and studies involving sensor calibration, high-definition television, an ultraviolet imaging system and a mid-deck telescope to be operated by Steve Hawley, a NASA astronaut with a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics.
The five-member team also includes mission specialist Cady Coleman, an Air Force colonel, who will throw the switches to release the X-ray observatory into space and oversee experiments with a high-definition TV.
Mission specialist Michel Tognini, a French test and fighter pilot and colonel in the French air force, flew in 1992 as a cosmonaut aboard Mir for two weeks.
Coleman and Tognini will do any space walking needed if things go wrong. Those tasks could include pulling power cabling along the telescope and manually raising the spacecraft to ready it for release.
The Associated Press contributed to this story, which was written by CNN Interactive Senior Writer Robin Lloyd.
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