NASA Cleans Up Cargo for Hubble Shuttle Flight

NASA Cleans Up Cargo for Hubble Shuttle Flight
Space shuttle Atlantis comes to a stop on the top of Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center after more than a 6-hour journey from the VAB on Sept. 4, 2008. The shuttle is due for an October 2008 launch to the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: Kim Shiflett.)

NASAengineers are preparing once more to move a container filled with newinstruments and spare parts for the Hubble Space Telescope to the waitingshuttle Atlantis after cleaning up bits of contamination from inside some ofthe delicate hardware, space agency officials said Thursday.

The cargocontainer is due to be hauled out to NASA?s seaside Pad 39A launch site at theKennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., ?Saturday evening — two days late— though the agency is still targetingan Oct. 10 liftoff for Atlantis, NASA spokesperson Candrea Thomas told

?Right nowwe?re evaluating the work to be done,? Thomas said, adding that top shuttleofficials will set a formal launch date for Atlantis during a two-day meetingto begin Oct. 2.

Shuttleengineers initially planned to move the cargo to Atlantis today, but had tostand down Wednesday after discoveringloose bits of insulation inside a plastic-wrapped bag protecting a palletpacked with fresh batteries for Hubble and the space telescope?s new Wide FieldCamera 3. The insulation had broken loose, then been blown about inside the protectivebag by a purge system, NASA officials said.

NASA has nodays left to spare if it is to ready Atlantis and its cargo in time for theplanned Oct. 10 launch of seven astronauts on one last service call to Hubble. Ifthe lost time cannot be made up, the 11-day servicing mission?s launch couldslip a few days.

Commandedby veteran astronaut Scott Altman, Atlantis? crew plans to stage fiveback-to-back spacewalks to install new cameras, gyroscopes, batteries, adocking ring and other equipment, as well as make tricky repairs to extendHubble?s operational life through at least 2013.

But first,the container with Hubble?s new instruments and spare parts must beinstalled inside the cargo bay of Atlantis at the launch pad. The payloadcanister is expected to begin the 3.5-mile (5.6-km)trek to Pad 39A Saturday evening at 6:00 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT), Thomas said.

?It?s abouta four-hour process, so it should be there somewhere around 10:00 p.m.,? sheadded.

Whileengineers prepare to move the cargo to Atlantis, the space shuttle?s sistership Endeavour is being primed for a move of its own.

Shuttletechnicians are due to move Endeavour out of NASA?s massive Vehicle AssemblyBuilding early Thursday at 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) for a 4.2-mile (6.7-km) tripto the nearby Launch Pad 39B.

Endeavouris due to launch toward the International Space Station on Nov. 12 from Pad 39Ato deliver fresh food, supplies and newlife support equipment designed to support six-astronaut crews, twice thesize of current station expeditions. Before that, however, Endeavour must standby atop Pad 39B to serve as a rescue ship for Atlantis and its Hubble-servicingastronaut crew.

BecauseAtlantis must fly higher and in a different inclination that the space stationto reach Hubble, the shuttle will not be able to ferry its astronaut crew tothe orbiting laboratory to await rescue if its heat shield is damaged beyondrepair. NASA is priming Endeavour and a skeleton crew of four astronautscommanded by veteran spaceflyer Dominic Gorie to retrieve the Atlantis crew andscuttle the stricken orbiter, though mission managers and the astronauts,themselves, have said it is extremely unlikely that any such rescue will berequired.

?It?s avery low probability of an event, but I?m glad that there?s a relatively robustplan to deal with it if it did happen,? Altman has said in a NASA interview.

Aftercompleting their Hubble overhaul, Altman and his crew are currently slated toland late Oct. 20 at the Kennedy Space Center, after which NASA would moveEndeavour into launch position atop Pad 39A, the agency has said.

Atlantis? missionto Hubble will be NASA?s fourth of up to five shuttle flights planned for 2008.Thursday?s rollout of Endeavour to Launch Pad 39B will mark the first time since2001 that two space shuttles have been at their respective launch pads at thesame time.

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.