Hubble Saved: NASA Approves Shuttle Flight to Service Space Telescope

Over the past 20 years, Hubble has delivered new discoveries and breathtaking images. The most amazing discovery has been Hubble’s longevity.
(Image: © NASA)

Thisstory was updated at 11:34 a.m. EST.

Thedecision is in and the HubbleSpace Telescope is saved.

NASAannounced Tuesday that it will go ahead with one final space shuttle mission torepair and upgrade Hubble after months of debate over the risks of such anendeavor.

"We aregoing to add a shuttle servicing mission of the Hubble Space Telescope to theshuttle's manifest to be flown before it retires," announced NASA chief MichaelGriffinat the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Baltimore, Maryland,where Hubble engineers and scientists gave him a standing ovation. "This is aday that I've wanted to get to for the last 18 months."

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"Hubble isone of the great observatories," Griffin has said. "It has revealed fundamentalthings about the universe of which we had no idea."

Griffinsaid today that the $900 millionservicing mission will likely launch aboard NASA's Discovery orbiter betweenconstruction flights to complete the International SpaceStation (ISS), and is expected to feature no less than four--and preferablyfive--spacewalks to upgrade Hubble's optics and make other repairs.

"We'retrying for early May of 2008," Griffin said.

Veteranshuttle flyer Scott Altman will command the mission, with first-time flyer GregoryJohnson servicing as pilots and astronauts Andrew Feustel, Michael Good, JohnGrunsfeld, Michael Massimino and Megan McArthur servicing as mission specialists.Their mission will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center spaceport in CapeCanaveral, Florida, where a second shuttle will stand ready on a second launchpad to serve as a rescue vehicle if needed.

Theastronauts will discuss their duties in press conference scheduled for at 2:30p.m. EST (1930 GMT) today. NASA will also hold an earlier press conference at12:45 p.m. EST (1745 GMT). [Click herefor live NASATV via SPACE.com's feed.]

Astronomershope the decision means Hubble could still be in operation by 2013 when NASA'snext great observatory--the James Webb Space Telescope--is slated to fly.Hubble's visible and ultraviolet observations will not be duplicated by JWST,which will scan primarily in the infrared wavelengths, researchers said.

"I think itis important to at least make the decision, because that will then tell us[what's happening]," University of Texas astronomer J. Craig Wheeler, presidentof the American Astronomical Society, told SPACE.com. "It's terriblyimportant to make a decision."

Dauntingmission ahead

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Hubble-boundshuttle astronauts have a daunting task ahead of them. Their tasks include:

  • The installation of Wide Field Camera-3, a new camera to amplify Hubble's vision.
  • The replacement of Hubble's batteries, some thermal insulation and a broken guidance sensor.
  • Refurbishment of the Hubble's vital attitude controlling gyroscopes used to orient the space telescope. Only two of the six are in operation. Two are held as spares while two others are broken.
  • The installation of the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and unprecedented repair of Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), which was never designed to be worked on in space.
  • Using the shuttle's engines to boost Hubble into a slightly higher orbit.

Hubble's Best Images

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Hubble's Best Images

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Hubble's Best Images

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Hubble's Best Images

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Hubble's Best Images

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Hubble's Best Images

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After firststudying the potential to service Hubble robotically,NASA ultimately returned to an astronaut-basedservicing mission.

Astronautsafety in orbit topped NASA's list for a potential Hubble servicing mission.

"We are notgoing to risk a crew in order to do the Hubble mission," Griffin said today.

The tragic 2003loss of Columbia and its crew stemmed from heatshield damage that went undetected during the orbiter's 16-day mission.NASA now trains more than 100 cameras on orbiters during liftoff, record theflight with onboard cameras, followed by a series of in-orbitheat shield inspections with a robotic arm-mounted boom.

Shouldserious damage prevent an orbiter's return, most of NASA's remaining astronautcrews can simply takerefuge aboard the International Space Station, where they will already bedocked there to complete the outpost's construction by NASA's September 2010shuttle retirement date.

But theHubble-bound mission will not carry that ISS safe haven plan, prompting NASA'scommitment to having a second shuttle ready to fly before staging the servicingflight in the first place.

"We willcarry that rescue option in the manifest," Griffin said today. "And that rescueoption will consist of a shuttle waiting on the other pad from which we launchthe Hubble flight."

Griffin hasconceded that devoting a NASA shuttle mission to service Hubble does interfereslightly with the ISS construction flow, but it does not disregard theobligations of NASA to its international ISS partners.

"Obviously,that's a flight that we're doing that's not an assembly mission," Griffin said,adding that Hubble has always been a joint mission between NASA and the European Space Agency."Hubble itself has had international participation and its contributions to theadvancement of knowledge have been international in nature."

But scienceaside, it has always been the pictures of the universe that have been Hubble'sstrength, a forte that will apparently continue for quite some time.

"Hubble hasprobably been the most incredible instrument ever," Livio said. "Not just indoing the science, but bringing that science to the awareness of people allover the globe."

TheHubble story so far:

Podcast:Hubble:The First Great Space Observatory

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