Space shuttle, with Swiss aboard, blasts off to help Hubble telescope

After an unprecedented nine delays, U.S. space shuttle Discovery with its crew of seven astronauts – including Claude Nicollier from Switzerland -- is on its way to put the Hubble Space Telescope back in working order.

This content was published on December 20, 1999 - 08:49

After an unprecedented nine delays, U.S. space shuttle Discovery with its crew of seven astronauts – including Claude Nicollier from Switzerland -- is on its way to put the Hubble Space Telescope back in working order.

It is NASA's last chance this year to send the shuttle to Hubble's rescue. One more postponement would have bumped the flight into January.

Everything finally came together, and Discovery soared at 7:50 p.m. Sunday night (0050 GMT Monday) from Cape Canaveral, in the U.S. state of Florida, lighting up the sky for kilometres around.

Hubble was passing more than 595 kilometres (370 miles) above Africa when Discovery took off. The shuttle should catch up with the $3 billion telescope on Tuesday.

The Hubble mission originally was scheduled for October, but was repeatedly changed because of a barrage of equipment trouble: damaged wiring, a contaminated engine, a dented fuel pipe and, just last Thursday, welding concerns. Once Discovery finally was cleared for flight, rain and clouds interfered Friday and again Saturday.

Hubble quit working in mid-November when its pointing system faltered. That is why NASA wants to get to Hubble as soon as possible, even if it means flying a space shuttle over Christmas for the first time ever.

The astronauts will install six new gyroscopes to steady the telescope for precision pointing, and also put in a new computer, data recorder, radio transmitter and other equipment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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