Astronauts grab Hubble, prepare for tough repairs

May 13, 2009 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
In this image from NASA TV the Hubble Space Telescope is shown being held by the robotic arm from Shuttle Atlantis, Wednesday, May 13, 2009. Atlantis began a 350-mile-high grab of the telescope Wednesday setting the stage for five days of formidable spacewalking repairs. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

(AP) -- Atlantis' astronauts grabbed the Hubble Space Telescope on Wednesday, then quickly set their sights on the difficult, dangerous and unprecedented spacewalking repairs they will attempt over the next five days.

Hubble and Atlantis are flying in a 350-mile-high orbit littered with . The shuttle already has an ugly stretch of nicks from Monday's launch, but the damage is considered minor and poses no safety threat. NASA continued to prep another shuttle, though, just in case Atlantis is hit by orbital debris and the crew needs to be rescued.

After seven years of orbital solitude, Hubble looked surprisingly well. Flight controllers gasped when the telescope first came into view.

"It's an unbelievably beautiful sight," reported John Grunsfeld, the telescope's chief repairman. "Amazingly, the exterior of Hubble, an old man of 19 years in space, still looks in fantastic shape."

NASA hopes to get another five to 10 years of dazzling views of the cosmos from Hubble, with all the planned upgrades, which should leave the observatory more powerful than ever.

Shuttle operator Megan McArthur used the 50-foot boom to seize the school bus-sized telescope as the two spacecraft sailed 350 miles above Australia. Then she lowered the observatory into Atlantis' payload bay, where cameras checked it out.

Going into the mission, Hubble scientists and managers warned that Hubble might look a little ragged because it hasn't had a tuneup since 2002. But initial observations showed nothing major.

"Everybody's very excited up here, I can tell you," said Grunsfeld, who will venture out Thursday with Andrew Feustel. They will replace an old Hubble camera that's the size of a baby grand piano, as well as a science data-handling unit that failed in September and delayed Atlantis' flight by seven months.

This is the fifth time astronauts have called upon Hubble. The previous overhauls went well, but those repairs were straightforward, with spacewalkers pulling equipment in and out. This time, Grunsfeld and his team will venture into the guts of broken instruments.

"Don't hold us to too high a standard," NASA space operations chief Ed Weiler warned before Monday's launch. "We're trying to do two things that we've never done before, take apart instruments that aren't designed to be taken apart in space and operated on by gloved astronauts, and fix them after pulling out 110 or 111 screws.

"That's one heck of a challenge."

Two teams of spacewalking astronauts - two men per team - will take turns stepping outside. Besides swapping out the old camera and science data unit, they will replace Hubble's batteries, and a pointing mechanism. They also will install fresh thermal covers on the telescope, along with a docking ring so a future spacecraft can guide the telescope into the Pacific Ocean sometime in the early 2020s.

And in the toughest challenge, they will open up the two broken science instruments to replace fried electronics.

No one will visit Hubble after the Atlantis astronauts leave next week, so NASA crammed as much as it could into the five spacewalks and poured more than $1 billion into the mission. Managers also chose two experienced spacewalkers who have been to Hubble before, Michael Massimino and Grunsfeld, who is making a record third visit.

Atlantis is loaded with 180 tools; 116 were designed for this 11-day mission.

"We've set the bar extraordinarily high for ourselves," said senior project scientist David Leckrone, "and nobody should consider this mission a failure or any of the crew a failure if for some reason we don't get all things done to the 100 percent level."

The mission almost didn't happen.

A year after the 2003 Columbia tragedy, NASA canceled the repair effort, saying it was too dangerous. The astronauts would not have anywhere to seek shelter because the international space station is in a different, inaccessible orbit.

But a new NASA regime reinstated the flight in 2006 after shuttle repair techniques were developed and tested in orbit. A plan also was put in place to have a shuttle on the launch pad to blast off within days for a rescue. Since then, Hubble's unusually high orbit has become dirtier as a result of satellite smashups; even a small piece could pierce the shuttle or the suit of a spacewalker.

Shuttle Endeavour will remain on standby until Atlantis and its crew of seven head back to Earth at the end of next week.

---

On the Net:

: http://www.nasa.gov/mission-pages/hubble/main/index.html

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Atlantis moves in on Hubble to grab telescope (Update)

May 13, 2009

(AP) -- Shuttle Atlantis and its crew moved toward the Hubble Space Telescope for a 350-mile-high grab Wednesday that will set the stage for five days of treacherous spacewalking repairs in an orbit littered ...

Shuttle Atlantis blasts off on last Hubble mission

May 11, 2009

(AP) -- Space shuttle Atlantis and a crew of seven thundered away Monday on one last flight to the Hubble Space Telescope, setting off on an extraordinarily ambitious repair mission that NASA hopes will lift ...

Rescue shuttle at launch pad for Hubble trip

May 10, 2009

(AP) -- In what's expected to be the last time ever, both of NASA's shuttle launch pads are occupied. Atlantis is on one, primed for a flight this coming week to the Hubble Space Telescope. Endeavour sits ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

2 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

3 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

3 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

22 hours ago

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Thadieus
not rated yet May 13, 2009
why doesn't the shuttle move to a higher and less clutted orbit and change the orbit of the Hubble?
E_L_Earnhardt
2.7 / 5 (3) May 13, 2009
A BIG RISK! I WILL CALL IT SUCCESSFUL IF THE CREW GETS BACK HOME SAFELY!
Thadieus
not rated yet May 13, 2009
"A BIG RISK! I WILL CALL IT SUCCESSFUL IF THE CREW GETS BACK HOME SAFELY!" We all wish that. However specifics would be helpful
paulthebassguy
not rated yet May 14, 2009
@Thadieus - because Hubble was designed to operate at that orbit - changing the orbit will of course change the orbit period and require a huge change to the tracking equipment.

@Earnhardt - caps lock off please.

More news stories

A sharp eye on Southern binary stars

Unlike our sun, with its retinue of orbiting planets, many stars in the sky orbit around a second star. These binary stars, with orbital periods ranging from days to centuries, have long been the primary ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Astronaut salary

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

There's something ancient in the icebox

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...

Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. ...