Sunday, October 12, 2003

NASA May Have Fixed Night Shuttle Launch Problem: "NASA said on Wednesday it may have solved one of the most vexing problems in its struggle to return its space shuttles to flight—how to launch them at night while still getting full photographic coverage.

"The fix involves flying two modified B-57 high-altitude airplanes on either side of the shuttle, filming its liftoff and the first two minutes of flight, said NASA imaging expert Robert Page. This would allow long-range cameras aboard the planes to photograph parts of the shuttle that are obscured from ground tracking cameras during night launches."

This is very encouraging news. Not only does it re-open "half the launch opportunities available in any given year," but it also facilitates one of the more beautiful pleasures of the space program.

Few beyond those who closely follow the space program remember the spectacular night launch of STS 113, the mission just prior to the fateful STS 107 mission Columbia flew. (The STS 113 launch was, incidentally, delayed for a substantial period of time while the shuttle fleet had been grounded due to hairline cracks found only by the sharpest of inspection eyes. Many failed to acknowledge that rigor for safety in the aftermath of Columbia.)

So, to maintain night launches in the shuttle program will do much for the public relations of the space program. And that just whets the appetite for the thrill of watching a live spacewalk on NASA TV.

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