March 1, 2002

News in Brief

Hubble repair launch delayed

The Hubble Space Telescope repair mission scheduled for Thursday was delayed until today due to unusually cold weather.

The Columbia shuttle was supposed to lift off yesterday at 6:48 a.m., but NASA officials reported Thursday's temperature at 38 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature which is at the margin of the acceptable limit. In this instance, space engineers yielded on the side of caution.

In January 1986, low temperatures contributed to the mechanical failure that destroyed shuttle Challenger killing all seven astronauts aboard.

Columbia's mission to repair and refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope will take 11 days. The seven-member crew includes University alumnus John Grunsfeld, S.M. '84, Ph.D. '88.

Grunsfeld will take with him a CD of University Lab Schools students' stories and artwork. He will also take aboard the shuttle the title page of Edwin Hubble's dissertation, on loan from the University's physics department.

Friday's temperature is supposed to be approximately 10 degrees higher than Thursday's. Columbia's predicted launch time was between 6:22 a.m. and 7:24 a.m. today.

—Katherine Anne Robinson

Argonne workers exposed to toxic beryllium

One current and six former workers at Argonne National Laboratory, run by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy, have been found to have blood abnormalities caused by the inhalation of toxic beryllium dust.

These cases came to light when the Department of Energy carried out recent tests as part of a nationwide screening program of potential beryllium victims. The affected workers are being referred to medical specialists who will determine if they have chronic beryllium disease, which is an irreversible and sometimes fatal scarring of the lungs.

A person with the blood abnormalities does not necessarily have the disease, but the abnormalities indicate that the body's immune system has reacted to beryllium exposure. Inhalation of small amounts of beryllium particles triggers an allergy-like sensitivity in two to five percent of people exposed, and one to three percent of all people exposed develop chronic beryllium disease, according to the Department of Energy's Web site.

Argonne, which was created in 1946 from the University's wartime research labs, has used beryllium since the 1940s in X-ray machine windows and neutron beam experiments, but currently no one works in an environment where he or she could be exposed to beryllium dust, said Argonne spokeswoman Donna Jones Pelkie.

About 50 current Argonne workers and 100 former workers at Argonne and now-defunct U of C lab Site B have been screened under the program. Site B was the secret World War II lab that used beryllium to construct the world's first atomic bomb, and at least 10 workers developed chronic beryllium disease after working there.

—Stephanie Ye