NASA rescue mission aims to revive Hubble
- URL to an interesting article in USAToday
I hope they can keep the Hubble going.. It has done a fantastic of opening
the universe to us
First few paragraphs
By _Traci Watson_
(http://www.usatoday.com/community/tags/reporter.aspx?id=636) and _Dan Vergano_
(http://www.usatoday.com/community/tags/reporter.aspx?id=133) , USA TODAY
The Hubble Space Telescope, one of the greatest scientific instruments of
all time, is about to get an extreme makeover — an overhaul so delicate and
risky that NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld likens it to "brain surgery."
At 19 years old, the famous telescope is showing its age. Three of its
scientific instruments are broken. Half of its six gyroscopes, which keep the
Hubble pointed in the right direction, aren't working. And its batteries
are slowly dying.
The seven-member crew of space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to blast off
Monday in an attempt to fix it.
It will be the fifth, final and most difficult mission to service the
Hubble — a mission that was judged so risky to astronauts it was canceled in
2004 before safety precautions were added to ease the concerns.
INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: _See how Hubble works_
QUIZ: _Test your Hubble smarts_
PHOTOS: _Vote for your favorite Hubble snapshot_
If the work succeeds, it will mean a glorious rebirth of the Hubble. The
telescope would be 90 times more powerful than when it was launched in 1990.
If the mission fails, astronomy's crown jewel could become a $6.9 billion
"piece of space junk" with no chance to save it, astronaut and mission
commander Scott Altman says.
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No other flights to Hubble are planned. That's because the shuttle — the
only vehicle that can reach the telescope — is 17 months from retirement.
There had always been the possibility of "another shot" at Hubble, says
Mike Weiss, the telescope's deputy program manager.
That's no longer the case.
"This is the last opportunity," Weiss says. "There's no margin for error."
Even if Hubble were to blink off tomorrow, it would leave a legacy richer
and more vast than that of any other astronomy tool. It has more
discoveries to its credit than any other observatory, NASA's Jon Morse says.
It "has already earned its place in history as a triumph of science in our
modern era," says Heidi Hammel, an astronomer at the Space Science
Institute, a research institute. "Hubble brings the heavens down to us."
• Helped narrow the age of the universe to 12 billion to 14 billion years,
rather than the 10 billion to 20 billion years known previously.
• Captured the farthest pictures of deep space ever taken, showing early
galaxies born in the era when the first stars were forming.
• Detected exploding stars in a pattern that suggested a mysterious "dark
energy" is propelling galaxies apart.
•Provided the first analysis of the atmosphere of planets in other solar
systems and taken the first picture of such a planet.
For all those accomplishments, the Hubble's potential is perhaps even more
tantalizing. The period after the mission will be "the grand finale of the
Hubble symphony," says David Leckrone, Hubble project scientist at NASA.
"Everything we've done up to this point," he says, "has been in
preparation for these final five years, where Hubble is at its peak of capability."
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