Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Leaks May Scuttle Space Maneuver Problem May Keep Shuttle Far from Mir

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Leaks May Scuttle Space Maneuver Problem May Keep Shuttle Far from Mir

Article excerpt

Two leaking thruster jets on the space shuttle Discovery Son Saturday threatened to abort a practice rendezvous with a Russian space station.

The thrusters are small nozzles used to steer and orient the craft. They operate by pressure, like air escaping from a toy balloon.

Russian officials were concerned that leaking fuel might damage their orbiting Mir station if Discovery came too close during Monday's maneuver.

Mission operations director Randy Stone said NASA will do whatever the Russians want. In the worst case, the Discovery and its crew of six will have to bypass Mir, leaving clearance of 400 feet, he said.

Discovery is scheduled to close to within 38 feet of Mir on Monday afternoon and then circle it, as practice for a series of seven later missions in which a U.S. space shuttle will dock with it. The first docking is planned for June.

The two space vehicles are orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles an hour.

Shuttle commander James Wetherbee said that he would be disappointed if he couldn't close in all the way, and that much information would be lost involving navigation and shuttle-handling.

NASA officials insist the June docking by the shuttle Atlantis will proceed no matter what happens on this mission.

The first steering thruster to leak, located at the rear of Discovery, began spewing nitrogen tetroxide shortly after Discovery reached orbit Friday. The amount of leakage has decreased from 2 pounds per hour to a half-pound, but Russian space officials are worried even that much could contaminate the station.

The second leak occurred Saturday afternoon in a thruster at the front of Discovery.

Liquid propellant freezes the instant it encounters the vacuum of space, and the tiny crystals typically do not attach to anything, Stone said. The NASA position is that the leaks pose no safety hazard to the shuttle or crew and do not affect flight duration. …

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