NASA Eyes Loose Insulation for Hubble Mission

Space Shuttle Atlantis Moves to Launch Pad
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. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

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

NASAworkers were set to move Hubble?s delicate replacement parts to LaunchPad 39A at the agency?s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday to be installed aboardthe space shuttle Atlantis for a plannedOct. 10 launch, but will now have to clean up bits of insulation beforemaking the move, said Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesperson at the center there inCape Canaveral, Fla.

Theinsulation came loose while shuttle technicians were installing aplastic-wrapped cargo carrier containing some of Hubble?s replacement batteriesand the new Wide Field Camera 3 into a container for the short trip to thelaunch pad.

?Webasically have some insulation particles floating around inside the protectivebagging,? Beutel told, adding that technicians now have toopen the bag and clean up any contamination before proceeding. ?So right nowwe?re probably looking at probably a 24-hour delay to going out to the launchpad with the payload.?

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

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

?They?lladjust 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 bylate Friday if all goes well.

Meanwhile,NASA officials are also working to clean up the agency?s Johnson Space Centerin Houston after Hurricane Ike battered that center with rain and caused minordamage last week. Space agency officials have said the repair work should nothave an impact on Atlantis? planned launch, though it did delay the arrivalof an unmanned Russian cargo ship at the International Space Station byseveral days.

NASA isalso preparing to rolla second space shuttle, Atlantis? sister ship Endeavour, to Launch Pad 39Aearly Thursday, marking the first time since 2001 that two orbiters were inlaunch position.

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

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


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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.