Amid reports that it will not get a mission to Halley's Comet and it will lose an approved mission to Jupiter, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration yesterday made tentative plans to fly the space shuttle Columbia into Earth orbit early in November.
"I can't commit to a specific launch date yet," shuttle operations director George Page said yesterday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, "but late October now looks too optimistic and early November now looks very, very possible."
The new shuttle launch schedule means the second flight of Columbia will slip a month from its planned liftoff of Oct. 9. It also means the third flight will move back a month to the middle of February.
The second flight is being delayed to give technicians time to reinstall 365 heat resistant tiles on the shuttle fuselage that were damaged by a fuel spill Sept. 22.
"This launch delay is certainly going to affect our third launch, which had been scheduled for Jan. 18," Page said. "We're probably well into February for the third flight right now."
Meanwhile, reports circulated on Capitol Hill that President Reagan's new budget cuts would trim $367 million from NASA's fiscal 1982 budget and slash $1 billion apiece from the fiscal 1983 and 1984 budgets which have not even been drawn up.
Nobody in the Reagan administration would confirm or deny the two $1 billion cuts, but if true they would cost the space agency the Galileo mission to Jupiter in 1987 and a proposed mission to Halley's Comet in 1986.
Aides at the Senate Commerce Committee confirmed yesterday that the Office of Management and Budget will recommend the $367 million cut in the space budget for fiscal 1982, $311 million of which will come out of research and development for space flight.
This suggests an end to the Galileo mission to Jupiter and no chance for a mission to Halley's Comet. Galileo would have cost $540 million and the mission to Halley's Comet would have cost $300 million.
One source in the space agency said yesterday that the proposed mission to collect a sample of the space dust in the tail of Halley's Comet and return it to Earth has already been killed by OMB. Said the source: "The mission to Halley ended today. We were told to forget it."
The only large scientific mission believed to be untouched by Reagan's budget axe is the large space telescope, which is due to be carried by the space shuttle in 1985 into Earth orbit, where it will peer 10 times deeper into space than any telescope on Earth. The space telescope is designed for a lifetime of 15 to 20 years and it will be used by astronomers from all over the world.
The cuts reportedly do not touch the operations of the manned space shuttle, which take a larger percentage of the space agency's budget every year. The one-month delay talked about yesterday in the second test flight will add as much as $1 million a day to the cost of developing the shuttle.
Page said technicians had managed to reinstall 89 of the 365 tiles that had to be removed from Columbia after the fuel spill that damaged the tiles. The accident happened when a valve opened up while nitrogen tetroxide was being pumped into the shuttle's fuel tanks. The toxic oxidizer stripped the bonding off the backs of the tiles and burned some of the tiles, causing the launch delay.