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NASA's 'Glory' research satellite plunges into the sea

For the second time in two years, a rocket glitch sent a NASA global warming satellite to the bottom of the sea Friday, a $424 million debacle that couldn't have come at a worse time for the space agency and its efforts to understand climate change.

The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's Glory satellite lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and plummeted into the southern Pacific Ocean several minutes later.

Glory's clamshell-shaped protective covering, which was supposed to shield it during launch, never opened to let the satellite fire into orbit. A similar fiasco happened in 2009 when the Orbiting Carbon Observatory fell back to Earth after the rocket nose cone also failed to separate, and engineers thought they had fixed the problem.

"It's more than embarrassing," said Syracuse University public policy professor Henry Lambright. "Something was missed in the first investigation and the work that went on afterward."

Lambright warned that the back-to-back fiascos could have political repercussions, giving Republicans and climate-change skeptics more ammunition to question whether "this is a good way to spend taxpayers' money for rockets to fail and for a purpose they find suspect."

Thirteen NASA Earth-observing satellites remain in orbit, and nearly all of them are in their sunset years.

A NASA investigation board and Taurus' builder, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., will try to figure out what went wrong. It was the third failure out of nine launches for that rocket. NASA paid Orbital $54 million to launch Glory.

R2 may get to 'stretch his legs' soon

The 220-mile-high unveiling of R2 — the first humanoid robot in space — is being moved up at the urging of President Barack Obama. Astronaut Catherine Coleman said Friday that she and the 11 other humans aboard the space shuttle-International Space Station complex want to get R2 out of its packing material as soon as possible. Robonaut 2, better known as R2, flew to the space station aboard Discovery and will stay behind when the shuttle, now on its last trip into space, leaves Monday. In a telephone call Thursday, Obama teased the astronauts for waiting to unpack the robot, urging them to "let him stretch his legs pretty soon." NASA managers had initially wanted to wait a couple of months before getting R2 out. But now Discovery is spending two extra days at the orbiting outpost so that its crew can help unpack a new storage unit. Coleman said she's not sure whether they will be able to unwrap R2 before Discovery leaves.

Associated Press

NASA's 'Glory' research satellite plunges into the sea 03/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 9:11pm]
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