Many fans of the Hubble Space Telescope call themselves"Hubble huggers," but only one means that literally.
NASA astronaut Mike Massimino is getting ready for hissecond space shuttle flight to theorbiting observatory, where he will serve as part of a seven-person team toupgradethe popular telescope.
"I do actually get a chance to touch the Hubble and Ican hug it when I get up there," Massimino told SPACE.com in aphone interview. "Yeah, the Hubble is great."
Massimino and the other members of the shuttle Atlantis'sSTS-125 crew, led by commander Scott Altman, are due to lift off May 12. Theastronauts plan an 11-day mission packedwith five spacewalks to repair hardware and install equipment such as a newcamera, gyroscopes and batteries. The upgrades should extend the observatory'slifespan through at least 2013.
For Massimino, revisiting the telescope will be a trip downmemory lane.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing Hubbleagain," he said. "I saw it seven years ago. I think it's going to bereally cool and I think it's going to bring back a lot of memories, and remindme of emotions I had during the last flight that I forgot about or haven'tthought about in a long time."
The astronaut also flew on the STS-109 Columbia mission toHubble in March 2002, his first spaceflight. The upcoming Atlantis mission wasoriginally scheduled for October 2008, butwas delayed after electronics on Hubble broke.
"You're all set and ready to go, and it's like theycancelled Christmas," Massimino said of the delays."But in some waysit's been kind of nice 'cause it's given us some extra time to get thingsready."
Among the last minute additions to the flight plan is theinstallation of a replacement for the part that failed last fall.
The seven STS-125 astronauts are taking advantage of whatmight be their last weeks on the ground before liftoff by rehearsing theirskills for the busy mission.
"It's going really well," Massimino said. "Wejust have a few things we need to brush up on, a couple final runs in thepool" where astronauts practice spacewalk maneuvers underwater to simulatethe weightlessness of space. "But I think we're ready to go and lookingforward to leaving the planet."
Massimino has been writing about his experiences trainingfor the mission on Twitter. (Follow him at http://twitter.com/Astro_Mike). Heplans to savor the events of his final visit to Hubble in a way he couldn'twhen he was a rookie spaceflyer.
"The first time I think I was actually a little morenervous ? how I would perform in space, what would it be like," he said."This time I know how wonderful it can be to view the Earth and the stars,and how wonderful it is to work in a spacesuit on Hubble. I really want to goback and do it again."
- Video - Hubble's Last Service Call
- Video - Hubble Space Telescope Mission Control
- Gallery - The Hubble Image Collection