By Patricia Daukantas
If you haven’t already seen the OPN article on NASA's final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been online for a few weeks now, you’ll see it in your October issue of the magazine. It continues a long OPN tradition of Hubble coverage going back to the telescope’s launch in 1990.
Many developments have taken place since I wrote my article. Most importantly, the space agency has pushed back the target launch date of the space shuttle Atlantis, which will ferry seven astronauts to the orbiting Hubble, from October 10 to October 14, mainly because Hurricane Ike interrupted flight preparations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The astronauts lost a full week of training to the destructive storm.
Press reports also indicate that shuttle technicians had a few problems loading the equipment into the payload bay at the launch pad and have also had trouble with the insulation on the Hubble’s replacement batteries. Those issues seem to have been fixed. In addition to the instruments themselves, the Atlantis payload bay holds several specially designed carriers to anchor the Hubble instruments and the spacewalking astronauts’ tools securely in place for the high-acceleration, high-vibration ride into Earth orbit.NASA officials will hold a press conference on October 3 to announce an official launch date, based on flight readiness reviews scheduled for next week.
The Hubble repair mission follows on the heels of the 50th anniversary of NASA’s founding on October 1, 1958. It’s a good time to ponder the triumphs and challenges facing the space agency. Although the Space Telescope Science Institute administers the science programs relating to the Hubble Space Telescope – allocation of telescope time to professional astronomers, grand administration and public outreach activities – NASA has done and continues to do the heavy lifting work of launching the telescope into orbit, pointing it at the heavens and fixing it when necessary. Don’t forget that if NASA hadn’t sent astronauts to correct Hubble’s original spherical aberration problem in 1993, a lot of exciting science would never have been accomplished.
2008-09 September, Astronomy