New 3D Film Makes Hubble Space Telescope a Star

Hubble Telescope Gets Last Spacewalk Tune-Up
The Hubble Space Telescope stands tall in the cargo bay of the space shuttle Atlantis following its capture and lock-down in Earth orbit on May 13, 2009 during the STS-125 mission.
(Image: © NASA.)

TheHubble Space Telescope has long been an icon of astronomy ? with $10 billionspent over two decades to keep it peering deep into thecosmos. Now a new IMAX film is taking that space icon and turning it into a 3Dstar.

Thefilm ?Hubble3D? opens in select IMAX theaters on Friday and chronicles NASA?s May 2009mission that sent a crew of astronauts to repair and overhaul the nearly20-year-old Hubble for the fifth and final time. The 43-minute film seeks tobring Hubble, which orbits 350 miles (563 km) above the planet, down to Earthand includes stunning 3D flights through photos of the Orion Nebula and otherimages taken by the space telescope after its latest service call.

?Iwas astonished at how moved I was by the astronomical fly-through of theimages,? Hubble 3D director Toni Myers told SPACE.com. ?I kind of had a visionof how they would be, but the execution was beyond my wildest dreams.?

Thefilm is narrated by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, whom Myers said has a keeninterest in Hubble?sability to put Earth?s life-sustaining uniqueness in perspective with therest of the universe.

??Hubble3D? gives you a real perspective on how our small and fragile planet exists ina volatile and constantly evolving universe,? DiCaprio said in a statement. ?Itreveals the beauty and complexity of space and its vast possibilities.?

It?sa story that almost never happened, since NASA initially canceled the lastHubble repair mission, deciding it was too risky in thewake of the 2003 Columbia tragedy. That decision was ultimately reversed. Thena critical piece on Hubble broke just weeks before the mission was slated tolaunch in the fall of 2008. NASA delayed the flight again, to May 2009, so afix could be added to the flight.

Theastronauts who flew Atlantis? Hubblerepair mission said they were just glad the glitch occurred before theirflight and not afterward, when they wouldn?t have a chance to fix it. The STS-125crew, commanded by veteran shuttle flyer Scott Altman, added that seeing theirmission replayed in 3D on an expansive IMAX screen gave them a chance to relivethe flight all over again.

?Forme, it?s just increasing our understanding about what?s out there,? saidastronaut Mike Massimino, one of Hubble?s last spacewalking repairmen and aveteran of fixing the telescope. ?We?re just trying to understand these basicquestions. There?s stuff out there and we don?t know what it is.?

VeteranHubble-repairing spaceflyer John Grunsfeld ? an astrophysicist-turned-astronaut,has even left NASA to become the deputy director of the Space Telescope ScienceInstitute in Baltimore, Md., which oversees Hubble operations. The 3D imagesshown in ?Hubble 3D? are a great way to try to show the public what the spacetelescope can do, he told SPACE.com.

Massimino,Grunsfeld and their crewmates performed five tricky back-to-back spacewalksduring Hubble?s last overhaul. They added a new camera and spectrograph,replaced vital batteries, sensors and other gear, and then successfully repairedtwo older instruments that were never designed to be fixed in space.

Theresult is a Hubble Space Telescope that is more powerful than ever. Thetelescope first launched in April 1990 and turns 20 years old next month. WhenHubble first lifted off, a flaw in its optics threatened to doom the telescopeto the annals of space gaffs.

Butfive repair and upgrade missions later ? including a landmark 1993 mission tofix the optics flaw ? the telescope continues to churn out stunningphotos of space. Hubble scientists have said the upgrades made by theSTS-125 crew should add another five years onto the space telescope's life.

?It?slike raising kids, there are good days and bad days,? said Ed Weiler, associateadministrator of NASA?s science directorate, at the world premiere of ?Hubble3D? last week. Weiler has spent 30 years developing and working with Hubble.?It?s been with me since my kids were born.?

Thenew film includes some footage shot by Atlantis astronauts using a cameramounted in the shuttle?s payload bay. The astronauts had nearly 1 mile (1.6 km)of film in the IMAX camera mounted in Atlantis? cargo bay.

Whilethat sounds like a lot, it amounted to just eight minutes of film time. ?Hubble3D? makes up for the limitations of filming at Hubble last year by using olderIMAX footage shot by astronauts on previous missions to Hubble that has beenconverted to 3D.

Theastronauts also had Canon high-definition cameras which they were able to usewhile working inside Atlantis to add to the exterior Hubble shots. The resultwas a wealth of video, much more than could be squeezed into the limited runtime of ?Hubble 3D.?

?Icould have made two whole films with all the Canon stuff I had,? Myers said.

ForWeiler, the film is a fitting tribute toHubble while the space telescope is in its prime. Five or 10 years down theroad, he and other scientists expect to be waiting with mixed feelings forHubble to leave orbit and meet a fiery end in Earth's atmosphere.

?It?spart of your family,? Weiler said. ?It?s going to be tough when it comes backdown. But it?s going to be satisfying?there will be mixed emotions."

?Hubble3D? opens in select IMAX theaters Friday, March 19. It is rated G and runs 43minutes.

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