RELEASE: 98-253

December 21, 1998


Dave Drachlis, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL (Phone: 205/544-0034)

NASA today set a new launch date for the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility, and announced that it will be renamed the Chandra X-ray Observatory in honor of the late Indian-American Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory will be shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on or before January 28 and launched no earlier than April 8, 1999. The launch date will be subject to the actual shipping date and the results of a mid-February independent review of the progress towards preparing the operations center in Cambridge, Mass., for launch.

Chandra will be carried to space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on mission STS-93, commanded by astronaut Eileen Collins. The shipment of the spacecraft was delayed in mid-October so the prime contractor, TRW Space and Electronics Group, Redondo Beach, Calif., could complete testing on flight software.

"Chandra," a shortened version of Chandrasekhar's name, which he preferred among friends and colleagues, was chosen in a contest to rename the X-ray telescope. "Chandra" also means "Moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit. The winners are a high school student in Laclede, Idaho, and a teacher in Camarillo, Calif.

"Chandrasekhar made fundamental contributions to the theory of black holes and other phenomena that the Chandra X-ray Observatory will study. His life and work exemplify the excellence that we can hope to achieve with this great observatory," said NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin.

"Chandra probably thought longer and deeper about our universe than anyone since Einstein," said Martin Rees, Great Britain's Astronomer Royal.

Chandrasekhar, widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the 20th century, won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for his theoretical studies of physical processes important to the structure and evolution of stars. He and his wife emigrated from India to the U.S. in 1935. He served on the faculty of the University of Chicago until his death in 1995.

The Chandra X-ray Observatory will help astronomers world-wide better understand the structure and evolution of the universe by studying powerful sources of x-rays such as exploding stars, matter falling into black holes and other exotic celestial objects. X-ray astronomy can only be done from space because Earth's atmosphere blocks x-rays from reaching the surface. Chandra will provide images that are fifty times more detailed than previous x-ray missions. At more than 45 feet in length and weighing more than five tons, it will be one of the largest objects ever placed in Earth orbit by the Space Shuttle.

Tyrel Johnson, a student at Priest River Lamanna High School in Priest River, Idaho, and Jatila van der Veen, a physics and astronomy teacher at Adolfo Camarillo High School, in Camarillo, Calif., submitted the winning name and essays. They will receive a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to view the launch of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, a prize donated by TRW. In all, 59 people submitted the name "Chandra." Altogether, the contest drew more than 6,000 entries from all 50 states and 61 countries. The seven members of the selection committee included a top aerospace executive, journalists, scientists and a university professor.

Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra X-ray Observatory program for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) controls science and flight operations of the observatory for NASA from Cambridge, Mass.

For an electronic version of this release, digital images or more information, visit Marshall's News Center.

For information about S. Chandrasekhar, or comments from his Chicago colleagues, including those who will use the Chandra X-ray Observatory, contact Steve Koppes, University of Chicago, 773/702-8366.

Dave Drachlis, MSFC Media Relations Office