Science

Hubble Space Telescope – One Last Time

Monday, May 11, 2009, Space Shuttle Atlantis will embark on a mission to give Hubble one last upgrade and servicing. Missions STS-125 is a veteran crew and a special mission in many ways. If you’ve followed this mission, then you know it’s the first since Columbia was lost (STS-107) that an orbiter will not be going to the ISS. This is special in that if a problem develops on Atlantis, the crew will need to be rescued as the ISS will not be available. Endeavour is on standby as a rescue vehicle, should it be needed. You will never see two space shuttles on the launchpad at the same time, ever again.

Two shuttles

The mission will be intense as the Hubble is old and stubborn. The crew wants no surprises but they train for them. Many eyes will be upon them as they replace cameras, gyros and other various electronics vital to its operation.

It is still hard to believe that it was initially one of NASA’s greatest embarrassments. Now Hubble is synonymous with success and wonder. After an incredibly difficult emergency servicing mission in 1993, the Hubble’s vision was corrected. Our understanding of the Universe from that day forward has never been the same.

A few Hubble facts:

  • Astronomers have used Hubble data to publish more than 7,500 scientific papers, making it one of the most productive scientific instruments ever built. In 2007 scientists published more than 700 journal articles based on Hubble data.
  • Hubble’s 18 years’ worth of observations have produced about 32 terabytes of data, equaling the content of about 9,600 digital feature-length films.
  • Hubble is nearly the size of a large school bus. It is 43.5 ft (13.2 m) in length and weighs 24,500 lb (11,110 kg).
  • In its 18-year lifetime, the telescope has made more than 100,000 trips around our planet. As a result, Hubble has racked up plenty of frequent-flier miles, about 2.5 billion. This distance is equivalent to traveling from Saturn to the Sun and back.
  • In its 18 years of observing the universe, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has made about 870,000 observations resulting in more than 560,000 images of celestial objects.

So I wish the crew of Atlantis Godspeed. Make Hubble able to bring us more breathtaking images and data. After the crew leaves, it’s likely no human hands will ever touch her again. It would be nice though, if one day, she was retrieved.

If I could one day take my grandchildren to a museum and say “that’s the Hubble telescope, your dad was named after Edwin Hubble” now that would be cool.

Atlantis is set to lift off on May 11, 2009 at 2:01pm EDT. For more info on this mission go here