The crew of the space shuttle Endeavour returned Saturday to check on a wastebasket-size satellite they had sent wobbling into space three days earlier and found it had started to steady itself.
With astronauts John Casper and Curt Brown at the controls, Endeavour flew to within 2,000 feet of the black and white striped satellite at about 4 a.m. EDT.It "appears to be much more stable than it was the other day," said Endeavour crewman Dan Bursch, as the shuttle closed in on the tiny spacecraft.
When the shuttle crew first visited the satellite Wednesday, five hours after springing it into space with a deliberate wobble, it was still unstable.
The satellite, which is 20 inches tall and 13 inches in diameter, is designed to stabilize itself without rocket motors by using the Earth's magnetic field and the very thin atmosphere 176 miles up.
A brass block weighing 80 pounds in the front of the craft is supposed to make it fly straight like a dart or a badminton shuttlecock.
The astronauts fired a laser at the satellite to determine its stability but encountered problems keeping the beam of light locked onto the target.
NASA postponed until Monday the third and final rendezvous with the satellite, originally scheduled for Sunday, to allow scientists more time to study the problem with the laser.
"It has minimal impact to any of the other science," said mission operations director Jeff Bantle. "We can basically swap the days and get everything we have planned on."