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   not be rained on by a bunch of peaceniks.

  

   The launch was already running late as it was--almost seven years

   late. Congress gave the Galileo project its stamp of approval way back

   in 1977 and the probe, which had been budgeted to cost about $400

   million, was scheduled to be launched in 1982. However, things began

   going wrong almost from the start.

  

   In 1979, NASA pushed the flight out to 1984 because of shuttle

   development problems. Galileo was now scheduled to be a `split

   launch', which meant that NASA would use two different shuttle trips

   to get the mothership and the probe into space. By 1981, with costs

   spiralling upwards, NASA made major changes to the project. It stopped

   work on Galileo's planned three-stage booster system in favour of a

   different system and pushed out the launch deadline yet again, this

   time to 1985. After a federal Budget cut fight in 1981 to save

   Galileo's booster development program, NASA moved the launch yet

   again, to May 1986. The 1986 Challenger disaster, however, saw NASA

   change Galileo's booster system for safety reasons, resulting in

   yet more delays.

  

   The best option seemed to be a two-stage, solid-fuel IUS system. There

   was only one problem. That system could get Galileo to Mars or Venus,

   but the probe would run out of fuel long before it got anywhere near

   Jupiter. Then Roger Diehl of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory had a good

   idea. Loop Galileo around a couple of nearby planets a few times so the

   probe would build up a nice little gravitational head of steam, and then

   fling it off to Jupiter. Galileo's `VEEGA'

   trajectory--Venus-Earth-Earth-gravity-assist--delayed the spacecraft's

   arrival at Jupiter for three extra years, but it would get there

   eventually.

  

   The anti-nuclear campaigners argued that each Earth flyby increased

   the mission's risk of a nuclear accident. But in NASA's view, such was

   the price of a successful slingshot.

  

   Galileo experienced other delays getting off the ground. On Monday, 9

   October, NASA announced it had discovered a problem with the computer

   which controlled the shuttle's number 2 main engine. True, the problem

   was with Atlantis, not Galileo. But it didn't look all that good to be

   having technical problems, let alone problems with engine computers,

   while the anti-nuclear activists' court drama was playing in the

   background.

  

   NASA's engineers debated the computer problem in a cross-country

   teleconference. Rectifying it would delay blast-off by more than a few

   hours. It would likely take days. And Galileo didn't have many of

   those. Because of the orbits of the different planets, the probe had

   to be on its way into space by 21 November. If Atlantis didn't take off

   by that date, Galileo would have to wait another nineteen months before

   it could be launched. The project was already $1 billion over its

   original $400 million budget.  The extra year and a half would add

   another $130 million or so and there was a good chance the whole project

   would be scrapped. It was pretty much now or never for Galileo.

  

   Despite torrential downpours which had deposited 100 millimetres of

   rain on the launchpad and 150 millimetres in neighbouring Melbourne,

   Florida, the countdown had been going well. Until now. NASA took its

   decision. The launch would be delayed by five days, to 17 October, so

   the computer problem could be fixed.