NASA Eyes Loose Insulation for Hubble Mission
Space shuttle Atlantis rolls along the crawlerway toward Launch pad 39A, in the background, after leaving the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 4, 2008. The shuttle is due to launch in October 2008 to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The launch pad delivery of a container filled with new equipment bound for the Hubble Space Telescope next month has been delayed by at least a day due to loose insulation, space agency officials said Wednesday.

NASA workers were set to move Hubble?s delicate replacement parts to Launch Pad 39A at the agency?s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday to be installed aboard the space shuttle Atlantis for a planned Oct. 10 launch, but will now have to clean up bits of insulation before making the move, said Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesperson at the center there in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The insulation came loose while shuttle technicians were installing a plastic-wrapped cargo carrier containing some of Hubble?s replacement batteries and the new Wide Field Camera 3 into a container for the short trip to the launch pad.

?We basically have some insulation particles floating around inside the protective bagging,? Beutel told SPACE.com, adding that technicians now have to open the bag and clean up any contamination before proceeding. ?So right now we?re probably looking at probably a 24-hour delay to going out to the launch pad with the payload.?

NASA is still targeting an Oct. 10 launch for Atlantis? STS-125 mission to Hubble while engineers assess how much time the clean up work might require. Commanded by veteran spaceflyer Scott Altman, Atlantis astronauts plan to stage five back-to-back spacewalks to install new instruments, batteries, gyroscopes, as well as make unprecedented repairs and add a docking berth to Hubble. The mission, NASA's fifth and final planned Hubble overhaul, is expected to run about 11 days and extend the telescope's orbital life through 2013.

Beutel said NASA engineers are optimistic that the insulation clean up job will be quick, and mission managers have not yet indicated any plans to delay Atlantis? launch date.

?They?ll adjust it if they have to, but at the moment there?s no need to,? Beutel said, adding that Atlantis? payload could be delivered to the seaside launch pad by late Friday if all goes well.

Meanwhile, NASA officials are also working to clean up the agency?s Johnson Space Center in Houston after Hurricane Ike battered that center with rain and caused minor damage last week. Space agency officials have said the repair work should not have an impact on Atlantis? planned launch, though it did delay the arrival of an unmanned Russian cargo ship at the International Space Station by several days.

NASA is also preparing to roll a second space shuttle, Atlantis? sister ship Endeavour, to Launch Pad 39A early Thursday, marking the first time since 2001 that two orbiters were in launch position.

Endeavour is being prepared for a planned November mission to the space station, but must first serve as a rescue ship for the Hubble shuttle flight. Because they must fly to a higher orbit and in a different inclination than the space station to reach Hubble, Atlantis astronauts will not be able to reach the safe haven of the orbiting laboratory if their shuttle suffers critical damage.

Instead, NASA will ready Endeavour and a small, four-astronaut crew for the unlikely event a rescue is required. Upon Atlantis? safe return home, Endeavour is due to move to Launch Pad 39B for a planned Nov. 12 liftoff, NASA officials have said.