Topic: Atlantis Mission May Mean Second Chance for Hubble  (Read 639 times)

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Offline Dracho

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Atlantis Mission May Mean Second Chance for Hubble
« on: September 25, 2006, 11:28:45 am »
A safe landing Thursday by space shuttle Atlantis after a nearly flawless mission brightened the prospects for a repair flight to the ailing Hubble Space Telescope, space experts said.
"NASA is ready to make a positive decision and was mainly waiting for a successful" Atlantis flight, said space policy scholar John Logsdon of George Washington University. "I would be extremely surprised if they didn't give a go-ahead."

NASA chief Michael Griffin said after the landing that he'll decide in late October whether to send a shuttle to revive the telescope, which launched in 1990 and will shut down within a few years unless it gets new batteries and other parts.

PHOTO GALLERY: This week in space

Griffin emphasized that nothing's been decided. But he also noted that the Atlantis flight and a July flight by Discovery showed that the shuttle program had satisfied many of the prerequisites for a repair call to Hubble.

For example, if a shuttle flies to Hubble, "we want to know we're going to have a clean bird," he said. The orbiters from the last two flights have come back "very clean," or undamaged, he said.

Griffin said the last two flights also proved that astronauts in orbit can inspect the spacecraft for damage and make basic repairs to its exterior. Both abilities are key, because a shuttle going to Hubble would not have the fuel to reach the safe haven of the International Space Station should something go wrong.

Dependent upon shuttle

Hubble is "one of the great scientific instruments of all time," Griffin said. "If we think we can (repair) it safely and well, then we will."

The Hubble was designed to be maintained and upgraded by shuttle astronauts, who have already made three trips to the telescope. NASA has no other spacecraft that could carry crews to Hubble.

Although Griffin said no decision has been made on a Hubble flight, he implied planning is well underway.

"We need to do a (Hubble fix) fairly soon. We're targeting early '08," he said. "Other (shuttle) missions ... would have to flow around that, and they will."

If a Hubble mission is approved, it would have to be shoehorned into the shuttle's schedule. NASA wants the spacecraft to make up to 16 more flights to the International Space Station before the shuttle retires in 2010. A major problem with the aging vehicles could make that goal difficult.

Atlantis touched down gently in Florida just before dawn Thursday, safely ending a 12-day mission that enlarged the half-built station for the first time since 2002. NASA suspended work on the station after the 2003 disintegration of shuttle Columbia, which killed the crew and led to the grounding of the shuttle fleet.

Atlantis commander Brent Jett said the mission had been tiring but worthwhile for him and his five crewmates.

"If you don't get off to a good start you just put yourself behind the eight-ball," he said. "We have several ... very, very tough missions ahead."

Liftoff rule may be relaxed

The success of the two flights in two months is prompting shuttle managers to rethink several safety improvements:

A self-imposed requirement that all shuttles launch in daylight, to ensure good pictures of liftoff. The rule was supposed to expire after several smooth shuttle flights, allowing NASA to launch shuttles at night again. Shuttle integration manager LeRoy Cain said he expected the rule to be set aside in time for the next shuttle mission, planned for December.

Another redesign of the shuttle's fuel tank. Engineers have been working to replace blocks of foam on the tank that have fallen off during numerous flights. Such debris could do fatal damage if it strikes the shuttle, as it did Columbia. Griffin said the replacement effort may be called off because the tank has performed well during the last two launches.

Commanded by Jett, Atlantis fired its braking engines at 5:14 a.m. ET as the spacecraft soared high over the Indian Ocean. Despite the difficulty of landing the spaceship in the dark, Jett's touchdown was "by the numbers," Cain said.

The usual second-by-second description of the landing by a NASA public affairs officer at Mission Control in Houston was rivaled this time by narration from a higher source: the space station crewmembers, who kept an eye on their colleagues from above.

"Still the brightest thing through the window by far is the orbiter and the contrail behind," station astronaut Jeffrey Williams reported 20 minutes before the shuttle landed.

The Atlantis flight was one of the most demanding shuttle missions NASA has ever tackled. The Atlantis and space station crews hit no major snags as they installed a 17-ton girder on the station, unfurled solar panels on the girder and set in motion a wheel that keeps the panels pointed at the sun.
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Offline E_Look

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Re: Atlantis Mission May Mean Second Chance for Hubble
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2006, 10:15:17 pm »
Even as a scientist (inner space, not outer), I was mostly indifferent to the plight of the Hubble 'scope.  I mean, when I thought about it, I'd think that we really ought to send up A FEW shuttle missions to refurbish and/or upgrade the instrument... when, or IF I thought about it.

But it popped on my mind the other night when I took my kids to a small observatory and we were shown some B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L celestial objects: a close-up of the crescent moon (an eye-popper!), the double star Albireo (wondrous that two rather different looking and separately beautiful stars would be mutually orbiting), the Ring Nebula (amazing!!), a star cluster (sublime, subtle and pretty), and a couple of galaxies (not much visual detail, but truly awesome that we were looking at something even farther away than the other end of our own already humongous galaxy).

I truly hope the Hubble will be up and running and bring back to home visuals of the indescribable, awe-inspiring, overwhelming beauty of far away things in God's most awesome and infinitely far flung universe!  Oh the heavens declare the glory of the Lord!  Night after night they pour forth their speech!

We are most priviliged to be able to even get a few minutes peek at one little part of it out there.

<goosebumps and chills>