Astronauts will soon pay a last call on an old friend: Hubble Space Telescope. With luck, their work will keep the orbiting observatory going for another five years or longer.
This will be the fifth time that astronauts have visited Hubble. Without the earlier visits, Hubble would have gone down in history as a big, expensive flop. A problem with its mirror left the telescope with blurry vision. But astronauts installed corrective lenses, allowing Hubble to provide spectacular views of the universe. Other missions have installed new instruments and repaired failing systems.
This trip had been cancelled after the loss of space shuttle Columbia in 2003. But a new NASA administrator -- encouraged by scientists, politicians, and the public -- reinstated the flight.
The plan calls for the crew of the shuttle Atlantis to install a new camera and a spectrograph. They'll provide sharper views and more detailed observations of astronomical objects.
The astronauts also will try to repair two existing instruments that failed -- operations that are more delicate than anything attempted on earlier missions. And they'll fix the guidance sensors that help the telescope track its targets.
They'll also replace Hubble's gyroscopes, which keep it steady, and its batteries, which have been onboard from the beginning and are beginning to show their age. Then Atlantis will boost Hubble to a higher orbit -- giving it extra time to study the universe.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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