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Nasa is set to dispatch seven astronauts on its most dangerous ever shuttle mission as it attempts to rescue the $7 billion Hubble Space Telescope from meltdown.
Led by former US Navy fighter pilot Scott Altman, 49, a one-time stunt flier for actor Tom Cruise in the film Top Gun, the crew of Atlantis will repair and upgrade the orbiting observatory, risking a potentially deadly space-junk collision that could leave them stranded 350 miles above Earth.
The mission, which is costing Nasa $1.4 billion and is due to blast off from Florida tomorrow, is considered so perilous that it was once cancelled by space agency chiefs who feared that it could cost the astronauts their lives.
It was resurrected only after they agreed to place a second shuttle and crew on emergency standby, ready to blast into space to save their colleagues should a catastrophe occur. The move is unprecedented in the 28-year history of the shuttle fleet.
'It’s a belt-and-suspenders kind of approach - but when your suspenders fail, you’re glad to have the belt,' said Cdr Altman, who is due to launch with his crew from Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral tomorrow evening, returning in 11 days
Should a rescue become necessary, it would provide the greatest space drama since the abortive Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1970, say Nasa insiders, when three astronauts limped their crippled spacecraft home just hours from death, following an on-board explosion.
Among the greatest hazards facing Atlantis is the intense amount of space junk - such as broken satellites and dead rockets - that is cluttering the area where the shuttle will rendezvous with Hubble.
Shuttle flights usually only go to the International Space Station no more than 250 miles up - but at 350 miles, where Hubble flies, the hazards are far greater.
If Atlantis suffers damage, the crew would be marooned.
Hubble is considered the most valuable astronomical tool since Galileo first designed a telescope in the 17th century.
'I would consider this the climbing Mount Everest of spacewalking missions,' said Mr Grunsfeld, 51.
'The big unknowns are where we’re pushing the envelope further than its been done before in spaceflight…we’re trying some techniques that haven’t been done before.
There have been previous servicing missions to the Hubble, but this will be the last – and the most risky.
'You could say "Oh it’s going to be a piece of cake, we’ve done this five times" - except on this mission we are going to be repairing instruments that were never designed to be repaired in orbit,' explained Ed Weiler, Nasa’s associate administrator for science missions.
Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters improved on the forecast, now giving the team a 90-percent chance to launch Atlantis at 2:01 p.m. EDT tomorrow without weather interfering.
Also this morning, STS-125 Commander Scott Altman and Pilot Gregory C. Johnson once again practiced landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft as the entire crew readies for their mission to service NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Live countdown and launch coverage begins tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. on NASA TV and on the Web at www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/launch/launch_blog.html.
At the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-125 crew poses for a group portrait. From left are Mission Specialists Megan McArthur and Michael Good, Pilot Gregory C. Johnson, Commander Scott Altman, and Mission Specialists John Grunsfeld, Mike Massimino and Andrew Feustel. Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossman
Does anyone else find this odd - a quick rushed space mission to the telescope - risking the astronauts lives with another space shuttle on standby? Besides that - the cost of it seems outrageous in these days and times - why spend all that money on this mission - what is so important?
Originally posted by questioningall
It seems normally there is mention about it a few weeks ahead of a space shuttle launch - but I had not seen anything before about it.
I like the telescope too - but why the super fast rush now?
The great telescope in space has an antenna with a hole in it the size of a .22-caliber bullet. One of the telescope's main cameras has died. So has an instrument called a spectrograph. Three of six stabilizing gyros are kaput. A data router failed, and a backup had to take over. The telescope is getting slower about latching onto guide stars. The batteries are running down. And the shiny exterior has been torn up by countless collisions with tiny particles.
Yet, despite the battering and the ravages of old age, the Hubble Space Telescope is still 500 million times as sensitive as the human eye, and astronomers say its best days may yet be ahead. That depends on what happens in coming days when astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis attempt to give the orbiting observatory new instruments, new batteries and a new lease on life.
Originally posted by mrwupy
The launch is set for 2:01 EST and you can watch it live here. I just hope and pray everything goes as planned and our Astronauts are kept safe on this journey.
It should be an exciting day tomorrow.
Although the focus will be on the spacewalking astronauts, engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt will be busy running through a 550-page checklist as they give the telescope commands. Among other things, the Goddard staff will shut down power to parts of the telescope to prevent electrical arcing that might puncture an astronaut's glove.
"We have this choreographed almost down to the minute of what we want the crew to do. It's this really fine ballet," said Keith Walyus, the servicing mission operations manager at Goddard.
So, is he anxious about the mission?
"This is great!" Walyus answered. "We've been training for this for seven years. We can't wait for this to happen." www.washingtonpost.com...