Wind blows Endeavour launch to Thursday



CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP)—NASA again started fueling space shuttle Endeavour for the long-awaited mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

Wednesday morning’s launch attempt had to be scrapped because of high wind, and liftoff was rescheduled for early Thursday.

‘‘We’re going to go pay homage to the wind gods,’‘ commander Richard Covey said before climbing out of Endeavour.

NASA held the countdown clocks at the nine-minute mark early Wednesday in hopes the weather would improve, and then worked down to five minutes before giving up.

Crosswind gusts of up to 22 mph were well over the safety limit in the event of an emergency return to the launch site. Intermittent rain and low clouds added to NASA’s problems, as well as a ship that briefly strayed into the restricted booster-recovery area.

Better weather was expected for the planned 4:27 a.m. EST Thursday launch.

The launch attempt must be a half-hour earlier with every passing day, with only about an hour to get Endeavour off each time, because of the precision required for a rendezvous with Hubble. If Endeavour isn’t off the ground by the end of next week, NASA plans to wait until January rather than work through Christmas.

The $629 million repair mission has been years in the making. A record five and possibly seven spacewalks are planned during the 11-day flight to correct the $1.6 billion telescope’s nearsightedness and other problems.

‘‘It’s been a long time. We can wait a few more days,’‘ said Hubble program scientist Edward Weiler. ‘‘We can wait until January if necessary.’‘

he average American can be counted on to know three things about the space program: Men walked on the moon, the Challenger blew up, and the Hubble Space Telescope is a national joke.

The moon program still shines as the high point, now more than 20 years distant. Challenger, in 1986, was the tragic low. The Hubble is remembered for something else—a telescope that was supposed to see clear to the edge of the universe turned out to be nearsighted.

It was an error beyond belief. The main lens, 94 inches across, had been ground with edges flatter than they should have been by the depth of one-50th the diameter of a human hair.

Late-night comedians exaggerated Hubble’s problems and stuck NASA with an image of incompetence that clung like toilet tissue to a shoe.

There’s been no shaking it. For $1.6 billion, the nation got a telescope with an 85 percent disability that, in human terms, would render it too blind to drive a car. Rightly or wrongly, Hubble’s problems symbolized everything anybody wanted to criticize about the space program.

NASA, in this week’s scheduled rescue mission to fit the telescope with corrective glasses and replace other parts that have failed or caused trouble, badly needs a winner.

If training and effort play a part, it will have one. This mission has a lock on superlatives: It is the most thoroughly planned and reviewed of any of the previous 58 shuttle flights, its crew is the most experienced, and their training has been the most extensive.

Furthermore, the Endeavour’s four spacewalkers will be putting on the kind of show that draws huge television audiences, like last year’s daring mission in which three astronauts snagged a spinning satellite in their gloved hands.

TV pictures of astronauts wrestling with 600-pound parts 365 miles up, with Earth as a backdrop, should rivet millions of Americans.

‘‘This is the Super Bowl of the space program,’‘ said John Pike, space policy analyst for the Federation of American Scientists. ‘‘Tens of millions of Americans who normally don’t follow space are going to be watching and forming opinions guided by what they see.’‘

The one flaw in that image is that the Hubble repairs will be made long after prime time. Only viewers willing to watch in the wee hours of cosmic time will see the heroics.

Although NASA brass have done their best to lower expectations, they acknowledge they’ll be happy with what they consider ‘‘minimum success’‘—either replacing the wide-field planetary camera or installing a package of corrective lenses, and replacing at least one of the two pair of ailing gyroscopes.

‘‘Maximum success’‘ would include replacing the all-important, electricity-producing solar panels, which have an annoying tendency to tremble each time the spacecraft passes from Earth’s daylight to darkness. It would include replacing two of three gyroscope pairs, a magnetometer system and an upgraded memory for the telescope’s computer. And, of course, the new camera and the lens system that will correct the flawed pictures going to three main instruments.

Success won’t quiet NASA’s critics, but it will take the gloom off a year in which the $1 billion Mars Observer, the $228 million Landsat 6 satellite and the newly launched $62 million NOAA-13 weather satellite simply vanished. Although the Landsat and NOAA-13 were launched by the Air Force on Air Force rockets, every problem in space is laid at NASA’s door.

Failure, on the other hand, will give ammunition to congressional opponents who want to eliminate the space station, NASA’s already wobbly next big project of the decade. Indeed, one of NASA’s goals for the mission is to demonstrate it can fix things in orbit.

‘‘If this mission succeeds, NASA will be in better position to defend its budget,’‘ said analyst Pike. ‘‘If it fails, it will be easier next year for people to gripe, ‘Why give them more money to waste?’ ‘’

Whatever happens, Hubble is not nearly the failure that the Jay Lenos and David Lettermans make it out to be. It has returned some important and spectacular scientific returns.

‘‘What the public knows about the Hubble is that it is broken,’‘ said Ed Weiler, the project’s chief scientist. ‘‘It is not. We have been doing science for 3^4 years, 24 hours a day.’‘

Yet, Weiler added with a sigh, ‘‘The first impression lasted.’‘