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Glitch Delays NASA Launch

The long-awaited launch of NASA's $166 million Stardust comet probe was delayed at least 24 hours Saturday because of an apparent drop in current to a C-band radar beacon on the spacecraft's Delta 2 rocket, reports CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood.

The countdown to a launch attempt at 4:07 p.m. ET was proceeding smoothly under a cloudless blue sky when an engineer reported an alarm.

"Hold, hold. This is TM-2, I have a red alarm," and engineer said on the launch network.

"And we've just entered a hold," NASA commentator George Diller said. "The test conductor has called a hold. The sequencer has stopped, let's go to page 21, we have a hold fire on, sequencer stopped."

Unlike many space missions, Stardust, a NASA spacecraft that will fly to a comet and hopefully bring back comet dust, has to be launched on time to reach the proper trajectory. Any hold when the countdown clock is ticking automatically translates into a delay.

Should launch slip to Sunday, takeoff would be scheduled for 4:04:25 p.m.

NASA has only one second each day to send the spacecraft on its seven-year, three billion-mile journey.

This will be NASA's first attempt to gather comet samples and bring them back to Earth.

The plan calls for Stardust to meet up with Comet Wild Two in 2004, collecting tiny comet chips on a pop-up racket covered with a transparent glass foam called aerogel. If all goes well, the samples will return to Earth in a capsule in 2006 for scientific study.


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