clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

WORK'S DONE, SO ASTRONAUTS GET READY FOR THE RIDE HOME

Having finished experiments with a giant inflatable antenna and a self-stabilizing satellite, En-deav-our's astronauts Tuesday packed for the ride home.

The U.S.-Canadian crew wrapped up science experiments in the space shuttle's lab and conducted routine tests of landing system components to prepare for Wednesday's scheduled arrival at Cape Canaveral, Fla.Ground controllers reported that a cooling system in one of three auxiliary power units that failed during ascent was working fine.

The antenna and the satellite won't be coming home with Endeavour. After completing experiments with the two test spacecraft, they were abandoned into orbit.

The antenna, which filled with nitrogen gas and ballooned to the size of a tennis court, plunged through the atmosphere and burned up two days later.

The satellite, a wastebasket-size craft designed to become steady in space without jet thrusters, is expected to zoom around Earth at 17,500 mph for about seven months before re-entering the atmosphere.

Researchers initially indicated the satellite would burn up late this summer. But they raised its predicted lifespan on Monday after astronauts found that it hardly wobbled at all.

The 80-pound aluminum cylinder, ejected last Wednesday with an intentional spin and wobble, was pointed in the right direction - with its heavy end forward like a dart - when Endeavour's astronauts closed in to observe it.

Linda Pacini, lead researcher for the satellite, said the experiment proved that a satellite equipped with magnetic rods and weighted on one end can stabilize itself using solely its own mass and Earth's magnetic field. The study could lead to cheaper, longer-lasting satellites.

Within hours of releasing the craft, astronauts noticed it already had begun to orient itself. By Saturday, its flight path was mostly straight, with a slight wobble. The shake diminished even more by Monday.

The last encounter brought relief to scientists who worried they would have to analyze the $600,000 experiment using only radar data and video recorded by the astronauts.