The crew of the orbiting space shuttle Discovery raced around the Earth Sunday in an effort to overtake the first of two stray communications satellites scheduled to be recovered and returned to Earth.
By early this morning, the five-member shuttle crew had narrowed the gap between Discovery and the Palapa satellite to less than 400 miles.
On Sunday, Flight Director Larry Bourgeois at Houston's Johnson Space Center said the astronauts should be able to see the satellite as "a dot of light like a star" about one orbit before intercepting it this morning. "We are ready for the rendezvous, and all systems are looking super," he said.
In that maneuver, astronauts Joseph P. Allen and Dale A. Gardner are to leave the shuttle on a six-hour spacewalk in which Allen, flying a jet-powered backpack, is to retrieve the errant satellite and secure it in the shuttle's cargo bay.
The spacewalk, parts of which will be televised by ABC and NBC, is set to begin at 8:20 a.m. (EST) today and the docking with Palapa at 9:30 a.m., with the two astronauts due back inside Discovery by 2 p.m.
Discovery's crew spent much of Sunday checking the spacesuits Allen and Gardner will wear and maneuvering higher and closer to the Palapa satellite, which is trailing by about 710 miles the Westar VI satellite that the crew will try to retrieve on Wednesday.
Both salvaged satellites are to be returned to Earth for repairs.
A jet thruster on Discovery that had been leaking on Saturday was shut down Sunday and another thruster took over. Burned-out lights on Allen's and Gardner's space helmets were fixed when the dead batteries were replaced with three AAA batteries taken from one crew member's personal tape recorder.
"The lights are full up for the spacewalk," Bourgeois said. "All lights are working properly."
Sunday's workload was relatively light to give the crew time to relax and prepare for today's demanding schedule, which is to begin when the crew is awakened at 1:15 a.m. (EST) and end when the spacewalkers are safely back inside the shuttle.
Crew members appeared more than relaxed Sunday. During a live telecast back to Earth, Allen, the shortest male astronaut in the corps, hid while his crewmates pretended he was lost. Gardner then pretended to hear a noise, stroked his chin and opened a drawer against one of the cockpit's bulkheads.
Suddenly a hand appeared, upon which Gardner began to pull as if performing a magic trick. The hand was followed by the arm and face of a grinning Allen.