Launch of Einstein space mission delayed
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: April 7, 2004; Updated April 8 with NASA statement
A technical glitch has forced managers to postpone by two days the long-awaited launch of NASA's Gravity Probe-B spacecraft that will check key aspects of Einstein's general theory of relativity.
"The additional time is necessary to allow engineers to troubleshoot an apparent short in launch pad ground support equipment," officials said in announcing the delay late Wednesday. "This equipment is needed for a safe and secure launch of the GP-B spacecraft."
The problem is associated with a spacecraft battery monitoring circuit.
"Without this circuit, the battery voltage on the spacecraft cannot be remotely monitored from the pad during certain essential operations," NASA said in a statement.
Liftoff atop a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is now scheduled for Monday, April 19 at 1701 GMT (1:01 p.m. EDT; 10:01 a.m. local time).
Shrouded in a large transportation canister, Gravity Probe-B was driven to the seaside launch complex overlooking the Pacific, hoisted into the pad's tower and attached to the Delta 2 rocket's upper stage.
Moving to the launch pad marks an achievement for any launch campaign. But for Gravity Probe-B the milestone was doubly noteworthy since this $700 million NASA mission has a history dating back four decades, nearly as long as the space agency itself.
"It's already 150 feet off the ground so we are encouraged," quipped Rex Geveden, Gravity Probe-B program manager.
Once placed into a polar orbit 400 miles above Earth, Gravity Probe-B will carry out an exotic test of Albert Einstein's theories of space and time.
The satellite is equipped with four gyroscopes that serve as the heart of its experiment. Over the course of several months in space, scientists will look for very precise changes in the direction of spin of the four gyros as they provide an almost perfect space-time reference system.
The mission will test two predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity: the "geodetic effect" of how space and time are warped by the presence of the Earth and "frame dragging" of how Earth's rotation drags space and time around with it.
We will post a comprehensive mission preview report next week. In addition, we will provide live play-by-play updates throughout the countdown and launch.