Michael Braukus Headquarters, Washington, D.C. June 14, 1991 (Phone: 202/453-1549 ) John J.

Loughlin II Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. (Phone: 301/286-5565) RELEASE: 91-91 GRO SPACECRAFT GRABS FIRST TARGET OF OPPORTUNITY NASA's Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO) was maneuvered to point at its first scientific target of opportunity, the sun, on Friday, June 7, 1991, at 7:45 p.m. EDT. The 17-ton observatory was repositioned by controllers at the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., to gather data from two X-class solar flares that occurred on Saturday and Monday nights. The X-class is the largest and most powerful type of solar flare. Solar flares are temporary outbursts of intense solar radiation that have been observed blasting hot loops of gas more than 430,000 miles into space. These high energy outbursts have been known to disrupt the Earth's magnetic field and cause interference with communications equipment and electrical power distribution systems. While much is known about the composition and magnitude of solar flares, surprisingly little is known about the thermonuclear processes of these dynamic solar phenomena. The decision to observe the sun was made by project scientists and engineers about noon Friday. The flight operations team was able to complete the maneuver in about nine hours. The normal time for this type of maneuver is about 36 hours. The fast

action of the team gained 23 additional hours of observing time, allowing GRO to capture data on Saturday's flare which otherwise would have been lost, officials said. All four of GRO's instrument teams report that they are receiving good data on the solar activity, the most sensitive high-energy measurements ever of the sun. Project Scientist Dr. Neil Gehrels will decide this week whether to continue solar observations or to move on to the next scheduled target, Supernova 1991 T, on Thursday, June 14. - more -2The repositioning of GRO demonstrates not only the flexibility of the spacecraft but also the efficiency of the planned target of opportunity program, officials explained. This program, they said, allows the scientific community to position the spacecraft toward significant celestial events that cannot be predicted. In addition to solar activity, other examples of this type of event include supernova or other unplanned gamma-ray events. Science operations for GRO began Thursday, May 16, 1991, with the observatory pointed toward a pulsar in the Crab Nebula. Science operation plans call for a full-sky survey expected to last 15 months. GRO was launched on April 5, 1991, aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis and deployed on April 7, 1991. Its mission is to search for highly energetic gamma rays emitted by some of the most violent processes in the universe. GRO orbits Earth at an altitude of 287 x 280 statute miles. GRO is managed and operated by the Goddard Space Flight Center for NASA's Office of Space Science and Applications. - end -