12 January 2006

Repair Pledge

As I wrote in December, the future continues to brighten for the Hubble Space Telescope. While prudent to remain cautiously optimistic for the time being, it appears efforts to repair the orbital observatory have been gathering momentum.

The Hubble Space Telescope drifts through space in this picture, taken by Space Shuttle Discovery during Hubble’s second servicing mission in 1997. The 10-foot aperture door, open to admit light, closes to block out space debris. The observatory’s solar panels and foil-like thermal blankets are clearly visible. The solar panels provide power, while the thermal blankets protect Hubble from the extreme temperatures of space. (Image & caption courtesy: NASA)

Tuesday, at the at the 207th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington D.C., NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has affirmed his desire to repair Hubble, as reported by SpaceDaily.

Griffin: "NASA will, if at all possible, use one of the remaining flights of the space shuttle for Hubble servicing."

Astronaut Steve Smith works on Hubble during the second servicing mission in 1997 with a ratchet. NASA specially designed the power tool to withstand the harsh environment of space, making it an essential item during three different Hubble missions. Hubble was specifically built to be serviced in orbit with replaceable parts and instruments. Astronauts performed four days of spacewalks during the second servicing mission to replace instruments and repair the telescope.
(Image & caption: NASA)

"It is not our desire to sacrifice present-day scientific efforts for the sake of future benefits to be derived from exploration. We who run NASA today are doing our very best to preserve a robust science program in the face of some daunting fiscal realities that affect all domestic discretionary spending. These realities dictate that we set priorities."

The Hubble Space Telescope rests in the Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay during the third repair mission in December 1999. Hubble must attach to the shuttle for astronauts to perform repairs. Discovery is the shuttle that originally carried Hubble into orbit in 1990. The telescope stretches five stories tall, and the tubular part of its body is 14 feet (4.2 m) across. Its school bus-size bulk completely filled Discovery’s cargo bay during the trip from Earth to space. (Image & caption: NASA)

The imagery and data released by HST this week alone have been phenomenal, serving as a noteworthy reminder of the telescope's scientific value.

Several hurdles still must be overcome before another Shuttle repair mission can be undertaken. Regardless, the situation is looking good. I'll eagerly post further updates as they become available.

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