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Mars Global Surveyor Launched

A new era in the exploration of Mars began November 7 when the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft was successfully launched on a ten-month flight to the Red Planet as the first piece of an intense global effort to study the planet.
[Image of MGS Launch]     "We look forward to a fabulous mission to Mars," said project director Glenn Cunningham.
     A Delta II rocket launched the one-ton Mars Global Surveyor just after 12 noon EST (1700 UT) on November 7. The launch was delayed one day due to poor weather.
     The launch took place without problems, although one minor problem was reported with the spacecraft after it separated from the spent booster stage. One of the solar panels failed to extend fully, coming about 20 degrees short of the planned position. This problem did not cause any problems with the power supply, as the panels were generating more power than planned.
     Of greater concern was a slight wobble the unextended panel created in the spacecraft. If the wobble persists it could make course corrections more difficult. Engineers were optimistic, though, that the stuck hinge could be unfrozen by the Sun before the first planned correction.
     Mars Global Surveyor, built for NASA by Lockheed Martin, carries five instruments plus a radio relay system that will be used by landers sent by the Russian Mars 96 mission. Most of the instruments flown on Mars Global Surveyor are backups or are related to similar instruments on the ill-fated Mars Observer mission launched four years ago.
     Mars Global Surveyor is the first of three spacecraft that will be launched to Mars this fall. On November 16 the Mars 96 spacecraft will be launched by Russia on a multi-purpose mission to Mars. In early December Mars Pathfinder will be launched by the U.S. to land on Mars and deploy a small rover.
     The launch also marks the start of an intense period of unmanned exploration of Mars. The U.S. plans to launch ten missions to Mars, including Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Pathfinder, over the next ten years, capping off with a sample return mission. Russia, Japan, and Europe also plan additional missions in the same timeframe.

Shuttle Launch Delayed Until November 19

A combination of delays due to an investigation of a booster problem, poor weather, and a conflict with an unmanned launch have all worked to delay the planned launch of the shuttle Columbia until at least November 19.
[Image of STS-80]     No launch date had been officially set for mission STS-80, but NASA had been working towards a November 8 launch while investigating a problem seen in one of the booster rockets after the launch of Atlantis in September.
     Engineers discovered up to sixty grooves etched in the insulation of on the booster's nozzles after the Atlantis launch. The grooves had been cut by hot exhaust gases, but the mechanism that allowed the gases to get at the insulation was not understood.
     The ongoing investigation forced NASA on November 4 to hold off on a launch decision for one week while work continued on the cause of the anomaly.
     A week later, after both a NASA panel and an independent group decided that, while the cause of the erosion was still unknown, it posed no possible threat to the shuttle, NASA scheduled the launch for November 15.
     Poor weather and launch delays have further delayed the shuttle launch. An Atlas rocket scheduled to launch Wednesday was delayed by poor weather. Since a minimum of two days is required between launched for the Air Force to make range preparations, the shuttle launch was pushed back until the afternoon of Saturday, November 16.
     The launch was then further delayed to the 19th due to weather forecasts, which call for high winds, clouds, and rain for the next several days.
     When launched, Columbia will spend 16 days in orbit. It will deploy and retrieve two satellites: the Wake Shield Facility, a materials science spacecraft studying the growth of semiconductor films in an ultravacuum, and ORFEUS/SPAS, an astronomy satellite.
     Astronauts will also perform two spacewalks to test assembly techniques that will be used for the International Space Station.
     The delay in the launch means the shuttle crew will spend Thanksgiving in orbit. "We managed to find some turkey and dressing and we'll add some green beans from the menu that's already aboard," said mission commander Ken Cockrell. "We're all set for turkey day."

Pegasus Launch Fails to Deploy Spacecraft

Two science spacecraft launched on a Pegasus XL November 4 were written off by NASA when they remained attached to their booster stage and were unable to generate power.
[Image of Pegasus launch]     The Scientific Applications Satellite B (SAC-B) and High Energy Transient Experiment (HETE) spacecraft were launched on the afternoon of November 4 on a Pegasus XL off the coast from the Wallops Flight Center in Virginia. the rocket successfully carried them to an orbit nearly 500 km (300 mi) high.
     However, the two spacecraft failed to separate from the third stage of the booster, for reasons not yet known.
     The failure to separate immediately doomed HETE, which was "buried in the stack" below SAC-B. Unable to deploy its solar panels, its batteries soon ran out and it lost contact with ground controllers.
     NASA originally had hopes it could salvage at least part of the SAC-B mission, but those hopes were dashed as officials realized the spacecraft and booster were slowly tumbling, making it impossible to maintain a steady attitude. The spacecraft does not have enough fuel to correct the tumbling on its own.
     SAC-B was a joint project of NASA and Argentina, with participation by Italy and Brazil. It would have studied solar flares, gamma-ray bursts, and other high-energy phenomena/
     HETE, a project by the Center for Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, would have gathered data on x-ray and gamma-ray bursts. The HETE satellite was built by AeroAstro under contract to MIT and NASA.
     Both NASA and Orbital Sciences Corporation, makers of the Pegasus XL rocket, have formed inquiry boards to study the incident.

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