By Patricia Daukantas
For the September issue of OPN, I’m writing a feature article on the fifth and final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. To that end, I recently attended a series of “Media Day” events at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, home base of the space telescope’s operations, located in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Right now, most of the instruments and tools that will be loaded onto the space shuttle Atlantis for the October 8 mission still sit in one of the world’s largest clean rooms at NASA Goddard. Transport to the launch site at Cape Canaveral starts in a couple of weeks.
Four of the astronauts who will step out of the shuttle and do the instrument repair and replacement work on Hubble visited NASA Goddard this week to familiarize themselves with the tools they will be using on the mission. From the clean room’s observation window, reporters could see the astronauts swathed in protective garb and face masks, but with blue caps to distinguish themselves from the technicians. The spacewalkers have also trained in NASA’s neutral-buoyancy water tank in Houston.
One thing that’s astounding about Hubble, launched into orbit in 1990 and outfitted with its first set of corrective optics in 1993, is its scientific productivity. Over the years, 7,724 different authors have used Hubble data for peer-reviewed papers, and 8,821 scientists are registered users of the Hubble data archive.
The versatile space telescope has imaged everything from the nearby planets in our solar system to some of the most distant galaxies ever seen. Hubble pictures have had a big impact on popular culture, too. Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, noted that some of the most striking Hubble photographs are now on display at the Walters Art Museum in that city. “It’s the people’s telescope,” he said.
Watch for my article in the September issue of OPN and for periodic blog updates during the October mission.
2008-07 July, Astronomy, Astrophysics