Thursday, April 23, 2009

Atlantis Crew Excited for Hubble Mission

Seven months after their mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope was postponed, Atlantis astronauts said today they were thrilled the mission is approaching again and they felt better prepared for it.

"We used our time wisely with this slip to try and take ourselves up to another level," said mission commander Scott "Scooter" Altman, a retired Navy captain making his fourth shuttle flight, during a media briefing at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The fifth and final mission to service the observatory - launched 19 years ago on Friday - is still targeted for launch May 12 from Kennedy Space Center.

But managers said today they will try to push that date forward by one day if possible, to get three attempts in before range schedules would force them to take a week off. A launch date decision is expected next Thursday.

The Hubble mission was nearing a liftoff last October when a critical computer on the telescope failed, prompting a delay.

Now the Atlantis crew plans to install a replacement computer during the first of the 11-day mission's five consecutive spacewalks.

The additional job limits the time available to attempt a complex repair of an important science instrument on the telescope, the Advanced Camera for Surveys.

In addition to that repair, the crew plans to install two new state-of-the-art instruments and repair another that has stopped working since astronauts' last servicing mission seven years ago.

The crew will also install new batteries, gyroscopes and "cookie sheet" thermal protection expected to extend Hubble's life at least through 2014, and possibly years longer.

The iconic telescope is known for discoveries that have improved understanding of the expansion and structure of the universe, the birth and death of stars and the formation of planets, mission scientists said.

"Hubble can continue to work on these problems," said Dave Leckrone, Hubble project scientist, at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

The mission's spacewalkers include veteran Hubble repairmen John Grunsfeld and Mike Massimino, who are making their third and second visits to the telescope, respectively.

The crew's first-time flyers are pilot Gregory Johnson, robotic specialist Megan McArthur and spacewalkers Micheal Good and Drew Feuestal.

Grunsfeld said the crew was looking forward to its challenging work on the critical final mission to Hubble.

"Hubble needs a hug," he said.

IMAGE NOTE: Inside the White Room on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on April 3, STS-125 crew members get ready to affix the mission logo to the entrance into space shuttle Atlantis. Clockwise from left front are Pilot Gregory C. Johnson, Mission Specialists Michael Good and Megan McArthur, Commander Scott Altman, and Mission Specialists Mike Massimino and John Grunsfeld. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

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