The optical devices that astronauts plan to install on the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope next month will be removed from a launch-pad "clean room" and checked for evidence of a gritty contaminant discovered this week, NASA says.
It was unclear how the disruption would affect plans to launch the shuttle Endeavour and a team of astronauts on an 11-day repair mission Dec. 1.
But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was hopeful yesterday that the unplanned procedure would not force a launch delay.
Workers found a gritty substance in the room Saturday after high winds from a cold front that moved through the Cape Canaveral, Fla., area buffeted the launch complex.
"We have laid out a schedule that says we could have it back in [Endeavour] by the 16th of November, which means we could still make the 1st of December," said Mitch Varnes, a spokesman at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The components are the Wide Field Planetary Camera II and Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement, or COSTAR, the two large instruments developed to compensate for the optical flaws discovered after the observatory was launched in 1990.
Space agency officials have said they likely will wait until next year to launch the difficult mission if they cannot lift off by Dec. 10.
The planetary camera and COSTAR were scheduled to be transferred from the launch-pad clean room into Endeavour's payload bay yesterday. Instead, the repair hardware will be removed to a processing hangar later this week, examined and, if necessary, cleaned.
L The optical devices, a new set of solar arrays, gyroscopes and other new components destined for the telescope were enclosed in protective bags in the room at the time of Saturday's high winds. The area was cleaned and checked again Sunday, when more of the grit was found on the protective coverings, Mr. Varnes said.
Several trouble-shooting teams have been formed to determine how the problem arose. Mr. Varnes said, however, it appears the fine grit was left from a sandblasting operation earlier this year as part of a maintenance effort.
Mr. Varnes said pad engineers plan to install a liner within the clean room to prevent further contamination. Or, he said, there is a possibility Endeavour will be moved to a neighboring launch pad, which is also equipped with a clean room.
If moved by today, preparations could probably continue toward a Dec. 1 liftoff, he said.