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
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
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).
Steven J. Sokol STS-82 Lead Meteorologist