In the final launch attempt available this year, Discovery and its seven astronautsblasted off tonight (Sunday, Dec. 19, 1999) on the last human space flight of the 20th century to refurbish theHubble Space Telescope.
Under clear and starry skies at the Kennedy Space Center, Discovery lifted off ontime at 6:50 p.m. Central time, lighting up the Central Florida coastline, to sendCommander Curt Brown, Pilot Scott Kelly, and Mission Specialists Steve Smith,Jean-Francois Clervoy, John Grunsfeld, Mike Foale and Claude Nicollier on atwo-day chase to catch up to and retrieve the 12 and a half ton telescope. Hubblewas sailing over Eastern Africa at the time of launch.
Eight and a half minutes after the third and final shuttle launch of the year, Discoverywas in orbit as its crew members began to configure shuttle systems for the planned8-day mission. One rendezvous burn of the reaction control system jets is plannedbefore the crew goes to sleep early Monday to fine tune Discovery's path to catchup to Hubble.
Technically, Hubble has been in hibernation since the loss of a fourth gyroscope onNovember 13 designed to enable the telescope to point precisely at distantastronomical targets for scientific observations. Hubble is in what is known as "safemode", a state of dormancy in which the telescope aims itself constantly at the sunto provide electrical power to its systems. Hubble is scheduled to be captured byDiscovery's robot arm around 6:40 p.m. Central time Tuesday.
Once the crew retrieves Hubble, it will be parked at the rear of Discovery's cargobay so that two teams of space-walking astronauts can perform repairs andupgrades to its systems during three nights of space walks. The most vital of thespace walks will occur on Wednesday night, when Smith and Grunsfeld replace allsix of Hubble's gyroscopes and install devices to improve voltage regulation to thetelescope's systems. Only three space walks are planned because the mission wasshortened. Smith and Grunsfeld will conduct the first and third space walks, whilethe second will be conducted by Foale and Nicollier.
If all goes as planned, Hubble will be released back into orbit on Christmas Dayaround 5 p.m. Central time, with landing planned on Dec. 27 at 4:24 p.m.. Centraltime at the Kennedy Space Center.
The astronauts are scheduled to begin an eight-hour sleep period at 1:50 a.m.Central time Monday and will be awakened at 9:50 a.m. Central time to begin theirfirst full day in orbit.
Discovery is orbiting the Earth at an altitude of about 300 nautical miles, completingone orbit of the Earth every 90 minutes.
The next STS-103 mission status report will be issued shortly after crew wakeupMonday morning.
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