May 13, 2009

The Space Shuttle Heads Out For One Final Hubble Space Telescope Repair Mission

The Space Shuttle Atlantis took off from Cape Canaveral two days ago and headed to the Hubble Space Telescope to do one last service mission, in which cameras will be replaced, and some equipment will be repaired, all in the vacuum of space.
The HST orbits around the Earth 350 miles above, and today is the day that the SS Atlantis will catch up to the HST, latch onto it with the shuttle's robotic arm, and prepare for the mission.

McArthur will use Atlantis' robot arm to pluck the 13-ton observatory from orbit and anchor it onto a work platform in the shuttle's cargo bay.
Five consecutive days of spacewalks will follow to equip Hubble with two new science instruments, six positioning gyroscopes, batteries and fresh thermal insulation.
Astronauts also will attempt to revive two broken cameras, one of which is needed to probe the atmospheres of planets circling in other solar systems.
"On this mission, we're going for broke," said Hubble project scientist David Leckrone. "We set the bar extraordinarily high for ourselves." - ( News Daily )

While -FUPPETS- loves that NASA decided to fund one more mission to repair the aging space telescope, it saddens one to imagine that this is it. There will be no more repair missions and once the HST finally dies, it will degrade it's orbit and burn up in our atmosphere. That will be a sad, sad day of mourning for anyone who has ever enjoyed the beautiful images brought to Earth by humanity's greatest scientific instrument ever, and a terrible day for all the scientists and researchers that rely on the HST for their source material.
Even the shuttles themselves are set to be retired in less than 2 years, once their 8 scheduled missions to the International Space Station are completed. Let us hope that whatever space vehicles are being developed are as valuable and efficient as our space shuttle fleet has been. Space travel, even in low orbit, is a very risky proposition, and never taken lightly. The shuttles we have lost, the Challenger and the Columbia, and the scientists/engineers/astronauts manning them, were lost in the line of duty to humanity. It has been almost 30 years since the first shuttle flight, and the future still looks bright.

NASA hopes that with the upgrades Hubble, which has cost about $10 billion so far, will last until at least 2014, at which time its replacement, the infrared-sensitive James Webb Space Telescope, should be in orbit and operational.

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