For astronomer Ron Parise, NASA's decision to delay the launch of the space shuttle Columbia until August means a temporary halt to weeks of sleeping from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., eating only at prescribed intervals and working through the night.
Parise, a senior scientist at Computer Sciences Corp.'s system sciences division in Calverton, Md., was scheduled to go up in the shuttle May 30 but technicians found a leak in a fuel tank and the mission was postponed. He shrugged off the delay -- the fourth for the mission -- as an ordinary occurrence in an extraordinary industry.
"Hardly anybody ever goes on their first try," said Parise, who had been preparing for the mission at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"This job may be a strange job, but it's a lot of fun," he said. "We do a lot of things that are part of our job that other people pay money to do."
Like para-sailing. The six-member crew learned to perform emergency water landings last month by sailing with special parachutes on their backs.
And of course there was the pleasure of dressing up in a space suit for several hours at time to get used to moving around with the equipment.
Parise, 39, joined Computer Sciences in 1980 and began developing the ultraviolet imaging telescope that is part of the shuttle's $150 million Astro observatory.
The astronauts will use the ultraviolet and three other telescopes aboard the shuttle to trace ultraviolet and X-ray radiation in the universe and identify star formations, quasars, black holes and other structures.
"We can see some of these things from the ground, but we don't see the whole story," Parise said. "The ultraviolet light gives a much more important part of the puzzle."
The mission will be the first in which scientists in space will operate these telescopes, rather than preprogramming them before launch.
"It's something I always dreamed of when I was a little boy," he said. "But now it's become more routine. It's my job."
The carefully scheduled shuttle experiments include both work and leisure: Parise, an amateur radio enthusiast for 28 years, will communicate from space with youngsters across the country by using a special antenna that fits in a window of the shuttle.
"It's not real high on NASA's priority list, but it's important in that it gets kids on the ground involved with the space program," Parise said.
Since he was chosen as a payload specialist for the Columbia mission in 1984, Parise has worked exclusively at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, reporting directly to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Although he is rarely at the Computer Sciences complex in the Prince George's County community of Calverton, excitement about the mission has permeated the company, where he remains officially on staff as a senior scientist.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm. It's a matter of very great company pride," said Paul Gorey, director of human resources at Computer Sciences.
The company distributed mugs bearing its logo and a copy of the patch Columbia crew members will wear on the mission to all 2,400 of its System Sciences employees, Gorey said. It also paid for 10 staff members selected by lottery to join several dozen executives at Cape Canaveral, Fla., for a reception before the scheduled May 30 takeoff.
Parise said it could be several years before he returns to work on Computer Sciences's contracted projects because months of debriefing and analyzing data will follow the mission. He also is scheduled to work on two more proposed Astro launches.
"If NASA decides that they're no longer willing to fly Astro, then I guess I'll have to find something else to do," Parise said. "But I don't expect that to happen for quite a while."