Hubble Astronauts Behind in Training for Oct. 10 Launch
Space shuttle Atlantis commander Scott Altman, left, answers a question at a news conference, along with crew members, from second left, pilot Gregory C. Johnson and mission specialists, Michael Good, Megan McArthur, John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino and Andrew Feustel, at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008.
Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux

The seven NASA astronauts preparing to rocket toward the Hubble Space Telescope next month aboard the shuttle Atlantis are a week behind in their training due to the recent Hurricane Ike, making it difficult to keep to the planned Oct. 10 launch, the mission?s commander said Tuesday.

Shuttle commander Scott Altman told reporters at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., that the effects of Ike at the agency?s astronaut training facility in Houston, Texas, have kept his crewmates from several vital training runs for their mission to overhaul Hubble.

?We did miss seven days of training,? Altman said from at Atlantis? seaside Pad 39A launch site in a televised update. ?It?s hard to slice that out and stay on track, so you come to the question of either slipping the launch or cutting out events and we?re still working with the whole system to balance that.?

NASA officials have said they are still maintaining the Oct. 10 launch target, with top mission managers expected to review the impact from Ike and payload delivery delays before setting an official launch target during a two-day Flight Readiness Review next week.

NASA?s astronaut training center and Mission Control rooms for the shuttle and International Space Station are based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The center reopened Monday, 11 days after NASA evacuated the facility on Sept. 11 ahead of Ike?s arrival. The storm caused minor roof damage to several JSC buildings and delayed the arrival of a Russian cargo ship at the International Space Station.

But the closure also kept Altman?s STS-125 mission crew from a pair of intense simulations and two spacewalk rehearsals in a massive pool at NASA?s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, where Hubble servicing astronauts have been practicing some tricky repair tasks to revive two of space telescope?s ailing instruments that were never designed to be fixed in orbit.

?I?m hoping we can get to make this up, I?d like another shot at them,? said Atlantis spacewalker Mike Massimino, who is making his second trip to Hubble on STS-125.

Joining Altman and Massimino on the Hubble mission are Atlantis pilot Greg C. Johnson, mission specialist Megan McArthur and spacewalkers John Grunsfeld, Mike Good and Andrew Feustel. They are currently at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center for several days of preflight training, culminating in a launch day dress rehearsal and emergency escape drill on Wednesday.

The astronauts plan to perform five back-to-back spacewalks during their planned 11-day mission to upgrade and repair Hubble for the fifth and final time. The mission is expected to extend Hubble?s orbital life through 2013.

?In the end, I think we?re going to try to do most of our training and that may mean a bit of a slip,? Altman said. ?But it?s still being evaluated and we?re standing by.?

Altman said he and his crew flew over Atlantis and its nearby sister ship Endeavour perched atop two different launch pads when they arrived at the Florida spaceport earlier this week.

In an unprecedented move, NASA is readying Endeavour and a skeleton crew of four astronauts to perform a rescue mission in the unlikely event that Atlantis suffers critical damage during the Hubble flight and is unable to return its crew to Earth.

Astronauts on recent shuttle flights to the International Space Station have had the option of returning to that orbiting laboratory to await rescue, but Atlantis must fly higher and in a different orbit to meet Hubble and would not have enough fuel to reach the station, mission managers have said. So the agency is holding Endeavour in reserve as a rescue ship to fly soon after any emergency declaration, they added.

Shuttle astronauts and mission managers alike have stressed that the scenario is extremely unlikely.

?I am confident we?re not going to need it,? Altman said, but added that he was struck by the view of two shuttles atop their launch pads. ?It?s an amazing sight.?

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