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The Spaceflight Meteorology Group

Postflight Mission Summary for STS-82

March 3, 1997

Discovery Services the Hubble Telescope and Lights the Sky Over Houston on Its Return to KSC

The space shuttle Discovery found a break in extensive low clouds in time to launch from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 2:55am CST, February 11, 1997. An upper-level low pressure wave produced drying and sinking air that scoured out a hole in extensive post-frontal low clouds.

The crew of Discovery included Commander Ken Bowersox, Pilot Scott Horowitz, and mission specialists Joe Tanner, Steve Hawley, Greg Harbough, Mark Lee, and Steve Smith. This crew successfully retrieved and serviced the Hubble Telescope, making a record-tying five spacewalks in the process. The astronauts performed ten major optical and electronics upgrades of the orbiting observatory. The fifth spacewalk was needed to patch unexpected rips and blisters in the outer covering of the telescope caused by solar exposure and corrosive elements in the Earth's thin upper atmosphere. The shuttle crew then boosted the 25,000 pound telescope nine miles to a record altitude of 380 miles.

The SMG weather team was busy with the threatening low clouds on launch. The landing attempts in the early morning of February 21st were also challenging. The dual dedicated WSR88D was in full use as the League City, TX 88D was needed to monitor a strong line of thunderstorms passing through the Johnson Space Center just as the landing team members were coming into Mission Control. NWSO Melbourne switched their WSR88D into the clear air mode after coordination with assistant lead Richard Lafosse, to better monitor low clouds to the southeast of KSC. Lead techniques development unit meteorologist Mark Keehn used some specialized GOES 8 channel 2 IR low cloud enhancements that were very helpful to monitor and track low clouds.

Rapidly changing low cloud decks prevented the first de-orbit opportunity. These low clouds formed in the southeast wind circulation around an Atlantic high pressure system. Satellite, radar, and astronaut-flown weather reconnaissance reports all confirmed a trend toward dissipating cloudiness before the second de-orbit burn decision. SMG then updated to a "GO" forecast for landing at KSC, and the Flight Director ordered the de-orbit burn.

The Discovery delighted many workers at JSC as it blazed in an awesome moonlit trail across the Houston sky on its way to KSC. John Young was one of those outside of Mission Control as it flew over. John, commander of the first space shuttle mission in 1981, was also impressed by this overhead pass.

Discovery landed at KSC at 2:32am CST to wrap up the 10 day, 4.1 million mile mission to refurbish the Hubble. This was the 12th of the last 13 shuttle missions to land at KSC.

Lead SMG forecaster Steve Sokol was working his 71st mission (13th as mission lead).

Submitted by:

Steven J. Sokol STS-82 Lead Meteorologist

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Page last modified: 1 May 2003