(by Marcia Dunn, News.Yahoo.com) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – A pair of spacewalking astronauts stepped outside today to begin demanding repair work on the Hubble Space Telescope, a job made all the more dangerous because of the high, debris-ridden orbit.
John Grunsfeld and Andrew Feustel emerged from space shuttle Atlantis and quickly got started on their first job, a camera swap. The telescope – the size of a school bus – loomed over them.
“Ah, this is fantastic,” Grunsfeld said as he floated out.
“Woo-hoo,” Feustel shouted.
It was the first of five high-risk spacewalks to fix Hubble’s broken parts, install higher-tech science instruments and make the observatory more powerful than ever.
Atlantis and its crew are traveling in an especially high orbit, 350 miles above Earth, that is littered with pieces of smashed satellites. A 4-inch piece of space junk passed within a couple miles of the shuttle Wednesday night, just hours after the shuttle grabbed Hubble. Even something that small could cause big damage.
Grunsfeld and Feustel first needed to remove a 15-year-old camera and then put in an updated model. Each is the size of a baby grand piano and awkward to handle. Also on their to-do list: replacing a computer data unit that broke down last fall, and installing a docking ring so a robotic craft can guide the telescope into the Pacific years from now.
The new wide-field and planetary camera – worth $132 million – will allow astronomers to peer deeper into the universe….
The old one coming out was installed in December 1993 during the first Hubble repair mission, to remedy the telescope’s blurred vision. It had corrective lenses already in place and, because of the astounding images it captured, quickly became known as the camera that saved Hubble. It’s also been dubbed the people’s telescope because its cosmic pictures seem to turn up everywhere.
The camera – which has taken more than 135,000 observations – is destined for the Smithsonian Institution.
Grunsfeld, the chief repairman with two previous Hubble missions under his work belt, took the lead on the camera replacement as well as the work to install a new science data-handling device.
Hubble’s original data handler, which was launched with the telescope 19 years ago, failed in September, just two weeks before Atlantis was supposed to take off on this fifth and final servicing mission. The breakdown caused all picture-taking to cease and prompted NASA to delay the shuttle flight by seven months.
Flight controllers managed to get the telescope working again, but NASA decided to replace the faulty computer unit. The goal is to keep Hubble running for another five to 10 years.
Astronaut Michael Massimino, who will venture out Friday, took a moment to send a Twitter update from Atlantis on Thursday.
“Rendezvous and grapple were great, getting ready for our first spacewalk,” he typed.
Massimino, a.k.a. Astro_Mike, has been sending tweets since a month before liftoff.
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1. a) How large is the Hubble Space Telescope?
b) How big is the camera on the Hubble that the astronauts are going to replace?
2. What repairs/improvements/upgrades will the astronauts be making to the Hubble during their mission?
3. Why is this mission to the Hubble dangerous?
4. What will NASA do with the camera that is being replaced?
5. What is NASA’s future plan for the Hubble Telescope?
6. Follow the mission of the astronauts of the shuttle Atlantis as they work on the Hubble by clicking on the links in “Resources” below.
ON THE HUBBLE: (from wikipedia)
The Hubble is the only telescope ever designed to be serviced in space by astronauts. To date, there have been four servicing missions. Servicing Mission 1 took place in December 1993 when Hubble’s imaging flaw was corrected. Servicing missions 2, 3A, and 3B repaired various sub-systems and replaced many of the observing instruments with more modern and capable versions. However, following the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, the fifth servicing mission was canceled on safety grounds. After public discussion, NASA reconsidered this decision, and … gave the green light for one final Hubble servicing mission. This was planned for October 2008, but in September 2008, another key component failed. The servicing mission was postponed until May 2009 to allow this unit to be replaced as well.
The planned repairs to the Hubble should allow the telescope to function until at least 2014, when its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), is due to be launched. The JWST will be far superior to Hubble for many astronomical research programs, but will only observe in infrared, so it would complement (not replace) Hubble’s ability to observe in the visible and ultraviolet parts of the spectrum.
For informaton on the mission to the Hubble, go to nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/servicing/SM4/main/index.html.
For information on using Twitter to keep up with the progress on the Hubble, go to twitter.com/HubbleTelescope.
For photos taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, go to hubblesite.org/gallery/album/solar_system.
Read about the colors and shapes in the photos taken from the Hubble at hubblesite.org/gallery/behind_the_pictures.
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