Servicing Mission 4 > SM4 Update Archive

SM4 Update Archive
5-24-2009
Atlantis and Its Crew Land Safely in California
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With Commander Scott Altman and Pilot Gregory C. Johnson at the controls, space shuttle Atlantis descended to a smooth landing Sunday at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The crew of seven ended their successful 13-day mission to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope when the shuttle touched down at 11:39 a.m. EDT.

Stormy weather prevented Atlantis from landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Welcome home, Atlantis," Mission Control radioed once the shuttle came to a safe stop. "Congratulations on a very successful mission giving Hubble a new set of eyes."

"It was a thrill from start to finish," Altman replied. "We've had a great ride."

Atlantis was supposed to land Friday at Kennedy, but bad weather forced the shuttle and its crew to circle Earth for two days. NASA officials had hoped the thunderstorms in Florida would ease up enough for Atlantis to land. When they didn't, Mission Control instructed the shuttle and its crew to touch down at alternate landing site in California.

Atlantis ended up circling Earth 197 times and logged 5.3 million miles during its journey.

The space shuttle blasted off on May 11 on an 11-day mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope. In five action-packed back-to-back spacewalks, the astronauts successfully completed the ambitious mission of repairs and upgrades to the 19-year-old telescope, extending Hubble's life through the next decade. On Tuesday, the Atlantis crew released the rejuvenated telescope to continue its study of the universe. The mission is NASA's fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble.

Tune in later

Return to this website in early September to see the first images from the revived Hubble.

5-23-2009
Bad Weather Spoils Another Landing for Atlantis
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Thunderstorms again prevented space shuttle Atlantis from landing Saturday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA's Mission Control considered landing opportunities at Kennedy and at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

"There's a chance for a landing at Kennedy tomorrow [Sunday], and we're going to keep that option open," said Greg Johnson at Mission Control. "Edwards remains good for tomorrow [Sunday] and Monday, if needed."

The first landing opportunity Sunday is at 10:11 a.m. EDT, at Kennedy.

Storms at Kennedy Space Center ruined Friday's landing opportunities, too.

The space shuttle blasted off on May 11 on an 11-day mission to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope. In five action-packed back-to-back spacewalks, the astronauts successfully completed the ambitious mission of repairs and upgrades to the 19-year-old telescope, extending Hubble's life through the next decade. On Tuesday, the Atlantis crew released the rejuvenated telescope to continue its study of the universe. The mission is NASA's fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble.

5-22-2009
Stormy Weather Delays Shuttle Landing
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The crew of space shuttle Atlantis will spend another day in space after bad weather forced NASA officials to cancel Friday's landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The next scheduled landing opportunity is at 9:16 a.m. EDT, Saturday at Kennedy, and a second opportunity is at 10:54 a.m. EDT. The shuttle also could touch down at Edwards Air Force Base in California at 10:46 a.m. EDT and 12:24 p.m. EDT.

If Atlantis does not land Saturday, it could land Sunday at Kennedy, Edwards, or White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

Atlantis has enough supplies to stay up until Monday.

The space shuttle blasted off on May 11 on an 11-day mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. In five action-packed back-to-back spacewalks, the astronauts successfully completed the ambitious mission of repairs and upgrades to the 19-year-old telescope, extending Hubble's life through the next decade. On Tuesday, the Atlantis crew released the rejuvenated telescope to continue its study of the universe.

The 11-day mission is NASA's fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble. The six men and one woman aboard Atlantis were the last humans to set eyes upon the telescope up close. NASA plans no more satellite-servicing missions of this type, with the space telescope or anything else.

That's why astronauts during this servicing mission added a docking ring to Hubble that will allow a robotic spacecraft to latch on and send it down to the Pacific Ocean when the telescope's mission ends sometime in the 2020s.

Time to wake up

Scientists and engineers will work on reawakening Hubble from its two-week slumber. Ground controllers shut down the Earth-orbiting observatory for servicing, and it will take a few weeks for engineers to bring it back up.

Engineers will spend the next three months performing tests and calibrations on Hubble's control systems and science instruments to make sure they are functioning properly.

Scientists will make the first post-servicing mission observations with the newly refurbished Hubble this summer. The images will be released to the public in early September.

Tune in tomorrow

Atlantis will attempt to land on Saturday at either Kennedy Space Center or Edwards Air Force Base. Return tomorrow to read all about it.

5-21-2009
Atlantis Astronauts Chat with the President

The crew of space shuttle Atlantis received a congratulatory call from President Barack Obama late Wednesday praising their work to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope.

"I want to personally tell you how proud I am of all of you and everything you have accomplished," the President told them. "Like a lot of Americans, I've been watching with amazement the gorgeous images that you have been sending back of the incredible repair mission you've been making in space.

"You're providing a wonderful example of the dedication and commitment to exploration that represents America, and the space program generally, and these are the traits that have always made this country strong," President Obama said. "All of you personify them."

An iconic symbol of success

Shuttle Commander Scott Altman told the President that teamwork made the mission a success.

"This mission has been an example of what our country can do when we work together," Altman said. "It's been the teamwork of all the folks on the ground, in addition to the folks outside spacewalking, that made this all come together and work for us."

The President also acknowledged astronaut and astronomer John Grunsfeld, who made some reflections on the mission after his third and final spacewalk to Hubble.

"Dr. Grunsfeld, I was moved by your observation that the Hubble's more than just a satellite, but an iconic symbol of our quest for knowledge."

Hubble's breathtaking images are an inspiration to school children, Grunsfeld replied.

"What strikes me as so incredible is that it's almost impossible to go to any K through 12 classroom these days and not see Hubble images on the wall, inspiring kids to do great things, and maybe some of them will become astronauts some day and push our frontiers even farther," Grunsfeld said.

President Obama responded that his two children cherish Hubble images, adding, "By allowing Hubble to continue on its journey, you've really allowed all of us to continue on our journey for growth and exploration," he said.

A job well done

In five action-packed back-to-back spacewalks, the astronauts successfully completed an ambitious mission of repairs and upgrades to the 19-year-old telescope, extending Hubble's life through the next decade. On Tuesday, the seven-person crew released the rejuvenated Earth-orbiting observatory to continue its study of the universe. The 11-day mission is NASA's fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble.

Preparing for home

The crew spent Thursday getting ready for its journey home. Atlantis is scheduled to land at 10 a.m. EDT, Friday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA flight directors will evaluate weather conditions at Kennedy before permitting Atlantis and its crew to land. If weather prevents a return to Kennedy on Friday, Atlantis could land Saturday at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the backup landing site.

Among the many preparations for Friday's landing are testing the shuttle's thrusters that position the orbiter for re-entry and checking the flight control systems that astronauts will use once the shuttle enters the atmosphere.

Tune in tomorrow

The mission will end Friday when Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center. Return tomorrow to read all about it.

5-20-2009
Fantastic Voyage to Hubble

Working on the Hubble Space Telescope was an "awesome" experience, said the Atlantis crew Wednesday during a news conference from the space shuttle.

It was a day after the seven-person crew released the rejuvenated Earth-orbiting observatory to continue its study of the universe. Their mission is NASA's fifth and final servicing mission to Hubble.

The astronauts had successfully completed an ambitious mission of repairs and upgrades to the 19-year-old telescope, including adding two new science instruments, plus gyroscopes, batteries, and a science data computer. They also revived two older science instruments that were not designed to be repaired in space. The upgrades and repairs will extend Hubble's life through the next decade.

Two teams of astronauts accomplished those tasks, despite several obstacles, in five grueling, back-to-back spacewalks. The 11-day mission will end Friday morning with the scheduled landing of Atlantis at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Reflections on a successful mission

On Wednesday the crew had time to reflect on the mission in a 40-minute news conference with reporters.

"I never imagined the flight would be as interesting as it was," shuttle Commander Scott Altman said. "It was more difficult than I ever expected." Altman was referring to several roadblocks the spacewalkers had to overcome in upgrading Hubble.

Those included a stuck bolt on a handrail to a door housing the broken Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph's electronics. Astronauts had to remove the handle so they could open the spectrograph's door and replace a failed circuit board.

"I couldn't believe I couldn't get it [the handrail] off," said astronaut Mike Massimino. "In the training sessions, the handrail bolts were the easiest of the 117 fasteners I had to remove to repair STIS [Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph]. But I was not going to give up hope."

Ground engineers, who had scrambled to figure out a solution to the dilemma, finally told Massimino to rip off the handle. As Massimino took hold of the handle, he remembered an incident during childhood that involved his Uncle Frank, who couldn't loosen an oil filter on his car. As relatives beat on the oil filter with a large screwdriver, Uncle Frank "yanked on that thing until it broke. That's pretty close to what happened when I ripped off the handrail," the astronaut said.

What a team

Those kinds of unexpected glitches showcased the ingenuity of the astronauts and the teams of engineers on the ground.

"This was critical problem-solving in real time," said astronaut John Grunsfeld, who, along with partner Drew Feustel, performed three of the five spacewalks this mission. Grunsfeld is the veteran Hubble repairman. He has participated in three Hubble servicing missions and 10 spacewalks that total 58 hours, placing him fourth on history's spacewalking list.

When asked whether a robotic servicing mission to Hubble would have been successful, Grunsfeld said "no."

"Many things on this mission were not possible robotically, including the STIS and ACS [Advanced Camera for Surveys] repairs," he explained. "Even the stuck bolt on WFPC2 [Wide Field Planetary Camera 2]. I don't know if a robot would have produced enough torque to loosen the bolt. There were enough surprises that would have made it difficult for a robotic mission. We were needed on this mission."

Awesome job

The astronauts also had to "pinch themselves" to make sure they were actually in space and working on the Hubble telescope.

In training on the ground, said Feustel, the spacewalks to Hubble were sort of like "make believe. Then I got to spacewalk to Hubble and touch it, and I knew it was real."

Added Massimino: "Not too many people get to do this. We're just regular people who have a really incredible job."

The views from space aren't too bad, either.

"All the training prepared us for the spacewalks, including the unexpected problems," Massimino said. "But nothing can replicate the spectacular view."

No regrets

Once the servicing mission was completed, the astronauts had no regrets as they watched Hubble float away on Tuesday, never again to be touched by astronauts.

"Seeing Hubble floating away on its voyage of discovery, I realized that we had given it five or perhaps 10 years of life," Grunsfeld said. "We'll be seeing Hubble every day through its images and discoveries. So I'm not disappointed at all that I won't see it again."

Tune in tomorrow

The crew plans to talk to President Barack Obama later on Wednesday. Return tomorrow to read all about their discussion.

5-19-2009
Astronauts Say Goodbye to Hubble
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The seven-person crew aboard the space shuttle Atlantis bid a final farewell Tuesday to an old friend, a rejuvenated Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble is now back on its journey of exploration.

Using Atlantis' robotic arm, astronaut Megan McArthur released the nearly 13-ton telescope at 8:57 a.m. EDT, as Commander Scott Altman and pilot Gregory Johnson guided Atlantis carefully away.

Hubble was the shuttle's guest for 6 1/2 days, resting in Atlantis' cargo bay, while two teams of astronauts took turns visiting the 19-year-old telescope to refurbish it. They completed five back-to-back spacewalks, including two of the top 10 longest spacewalks in U.S. history, to extend the telescope's lifetime into the next decade. This was the fifth and final service call to the school-bus-sized Hubble. In the five servicing missions, astronauts have performed 23 spacewalks and spent more than 166 hours working on the Earth-orbiting observatory.

As Hubble floated away, shuttle Commander Scott Altman paid final tribute to the telescope and a successful servicing mission.

The servicing mission "demonstrates the triumphs humans can have when they overcome challenges that are presented them. Not everything went as we planned, but we planned a way to work around everything," he said. "Now Hubble is back exploring the cosmos."

The 11-day mission will end on Friday morning when the space shuttle lands at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

New and improved telescope

The ambitious servicing mission was a great success. Spacewalking astronauts were able to complete everything on NASA's long "to-do" list. They installed a powerful new wide-field camera and a super-sensitive spectrograph.

The new camera, called the Wide Field Planetary Camera 3, is a 900-pound instrument that will greatly improve Hubble's ability to observe distant objects, such as galaxies and clusters of galaxies, as well as planets in our solar system. It will detect light ranging from the ultraviolet, to the visible, to the near infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The spectrograph, called the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, is the most powerful spectrograph ever sent to space. The instrument won't snap the beautiful images of space that Hubble is famous for, but it will separate light into its component colors to determine the composition and temperature of distant galaxies, stars, and planets.

Tricky repairs and some maintenance work

Atlantis astronauts made two historic repairs to Hubble's failed advanced camera and an older, more versatile spectrograph. Neither of those instruments was designed to be fixed in space. Atlantis astronauts revived them in two tense spacewalks.

The refurbished camera, called the Advanced Camera for Surveys, was Hubble's "workhorse" instrument before it shut down in 2007. Astronomers used the advanced camera to make the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an image of 10,000 distant galaxies.

The revived spectrograph, called the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, separates light into its component colors to reveal the chemical makeup of celestial objects. This versatile instrument also can take images in ultraviolet and visible light. The spectrograph stopped working in 2004.

Vital maintenance work also was on the mission agenda. The astronauts replaced aging gyroscopes, batteries, and insulation, and a science data computer. Although the new hardware is not as flashy as a new camera, it is a critical part of Hubble's operational system. Without them, Hubble would not be able to snap images of the universe and send them back to Earth.

Challenging spacewalks

During the mission, the spacewalkers encountered several stumbling blocks, including stuck bolts and failed power tools. But their persistence helped them to overcome the obstacles.

Wearing bulky 300-pound spacesuits, the astronauts performed the work 350 miles above Earth on a space shuttle that was whirling around our planet at more than 17,000 miles an hour.

But the grueling spacewalks had some perks, such as the opportunity to see a sunrise every 96 minutes as Atlantis circled Earth, and the chance to witness the flashes of a lightning storm raging far below the shuttle.

Housekeeping duties

After freeing Hubble, the Atlantis crew turned their attention to surveying the shuttle's thermal protection system, including its wing leading edge panels, nose cap, and underside tiles. Imagery experts on the ground will evaluate the data to determine the health of the thermal protection system.

Tune in tomorrow

The Atlantis crew will conduct a press conference about the servicing mission at 10:26 a.m. EDT, Wednesday. Return tomorrow to read all about it.

5-18-2009
Astronauts Race Through Final Hubble Repairs
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What a difference a day makes. Atlantis astronauts Monday breezed through the fifth and final spacewalk to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope, adding new batteries, replacing a science instrument, and installing new insulation.

The rejuvenated Hubble telescope is now ready to take on space again. The 11-day mission by a seven-person crew aboard space shuttle Atlantis is NASA's fifth and final service call on the 19-year-old telescope. The Atlantis crew will begin the process for Hubble's release at 6:16 a.m. EDT, Tuesday.

Smooth spacewalk

Spacewalkers Drew Feustel and John Grunsfeld, riding the robotic arm, raced through the day's tasks in 5 hours and 25 minutes before spending more than an hour cleaning up their work site. This was the pair's third spacewalk of the mission.

"Hear that, guys, we've done it all," said shuttle Commander Scott Altman, after receiving news from ground controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston that the spacewalkers had completed all their work.

Monday's smooth spacewalk was in sharp contrast to the one on Sunday. That marathon session lasted more than eight hours as the astronauts encountered several obstacles, including a stuck bolt, en route to reviving Hubble's ailing Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph. Because of the lengthy repair, the spacewalkers didn't have time to replace some insulation on one of Hubble's bay doors.

Ground controllers added that task to Monday's agenda, which already included installing new insulation panels on two other bay doors.

Extra work, no problem

The extra work was no problem for Grunsfeld and Feustel. Starting their work at 8:20 a.m. EDT, an hour earlier than planned, they first replaced the second set of batteries. Astronauts installed the first set during Friday's second spacewalk. The batteries, six in all, provide electrical power to the telescope during the time it is orbiting in Earth's shadow. When Hubble is in sunlight, the solar arrays power its equipment.

Next on the day's agenda was the replacement of one of Hubble's three fine guidance sensors. The instruments provide pointing information to Hubble to help the telescope remain steady when observing celestial objects. The sensors are also a scientific instrument, used for measuring the position and motion of stars.

After a swift installation, the spacewalkers were running an hour ahead of schedule. So ground controllers gave them the go-ahead to tackle their last task: replacing the telescope's 19-year-old insulation on three bay doors.

The insulation, made of stainless steel foil, protects the observatory's electronics from extreme temperature swings as it travels from day to night during its 97-minute orbit. Years of exposure to the harsh environment of space have taken a toll on Hubble's protective insulation, and some areas were torn.

Great day for a spacewalk

The pleasant work day, free of unexpected glitches, put the spacewalkers in a good mood.

"Beam me up, Scooter," said Grunsfeld to shuttle Commander "Scooter" Altman, who was maneuvering the 57-foot robotic arm.

A short time later, Grunsfeld was using a roller to ensure that the newly applied insulation adhered to the telescope's bay door.

"Rollin', rollin', rollin'," he sang. "Get them doggies rollin'..."

But Grunsfeld, an astronomer and a veteran of three trips to the Hubble telescope, saved his best words for the end of the spacewalk.

"It's a really big adventure we've been on," said an emotional Grunsfeld. "Hubble isn't just a satellite. It's about humanity's quest for knowledge."

He thanked several people and teams that helped make the Hubble mission a success.

"On this mission we tried some things that many people thought were impossible," he said, referring to some intricate repairs. "We achieved that, and we wish Hubble the best."

Before Grunsfeld and Feustel ended their day, they acted like space tourists and took photos of themselves in front of the telescope.

Successful final trip to Hubble

Thanks to Grunsfeld and the rest of the crew, Hubble now has an arsenal of science instruments: a new wide-field camera, a new spectrograph, a new fine guidance sensor, a revived spectrograph, and a restored surveys camera. Hubble also has six new gyroscopes, six new batteries, a new data-handling computer, and new insulation. The upgrades will extend Hubble's lifetime through the next decade.

5-17-2009
Persistence Pays Off in Spectrograph Repair
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An immovable bolt and a failed power tool were among several stumbling blocks that almost stalled the repair of another Hubble Space Telescope science instrument during Sunday's spacewalk.

But Atlantis astronauts Mike Massimino and Mike Good overcame the unexpected obstacles to successfully complete the repair on Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS).

The spacewalkers spent more than eight hours to complete the work, the sixth longest spacewalk in U.S. history. Because of the lengthy repair, the astronauts could not install new insulation blankets on Hubble. Astronauts may install them during Monday's fifth and final spacewalk.

The revival of STIS was considered another ambitious repair and involved replacing a low-voltage power supply board. Hubble's science instruments were not designed to be repaired in space. Astronauts had already made history on Saturday with the repair of the crippled Advanced Camera for Surveys. They were able to complete the fix in one afternoon.

Flush with the joy of that success, astronauts Massimino and Good ventured out at 9:45 a.m. EDT, to tackle the repair of the spectrograph, which ground engineers shut down in 2004 due to a power supply failure. It was the fourth straight spacewalk of the mission.

The 11-day mission by a seven-person crew aboard space shuttle Atlantis is NASA's fifth and final service call on the 19-year-old Hubble. The mission includes five back-to-back spacewalks to extend the telescope's lifetime into the next decade.

Tricky repairs

A series of obstacles, however, almost thwarted the astronauts' efforts to repair STIS, which was installed on the telescope during the second servicing mission in 1997. STIS, a spectrograph, separates light into its component colors to reveal the chemical makeup of celestial objects. The versatile instrument also can take images in ultraviolet and visible light.

A stubborn bolt on a handrail attached to the spectrograph's cover door provided the first roadblock.

"I don't think it's coming out, Drew," said Massimino to astronaut Drew Feustel, who was inside the shuttle choreographing Sunday's events. Massimino and Good were working 350 miles above Earth, as the space shuttle whirled around our planet at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

Even the custom-made tools for this repair didn't help Massimino loosen the bolt. It finally took some old-fashioned muscle to remove the handrail. With the blessing of engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Massimino ripped the handrail off the door.

The unexpected problem made even the crew inside Atlantis nervous. "It's a nail-biter in here, buddy," Feustel told Massimino.

The drama continued when Massimino's power drill stopped working. "Oh, for Pete's sake," a frustrated Massimino said. He then had to make his way down to the shuttle's airlock chamber to retrieve a spare tool.

He needed the tool to remove 111 tiny screws on the instrument's cover plate. A special device caught the loose screws so they wouldn't float away. After removing the plate without too much trouble, the astronauts couldn't secure it inside the storage box.

Once the spacewalkers solved that problem, they swapped out the failed supply board. Massimino and Good then replaced the electronics cover plate to STIS with a new, simplified version, which did not contain 111 screws. The new plate, instead, has two levers that astronauts locked into place.

A test by ground controllers has successfully powered up the instrument.

Massimino and Good were elated. "It is a privilege to work on this magnificent machine," Massimino said.

Atlantis crew members applauded the spacewalkers' persistence.

"We're very proud of what you have done today," said shuttle Commander Scott Altman.

"You brought STIS back to life," said astronaut and astronomer John Grunsfeld.

Unexpected glitches have plagued three out of the four spacewalks during this mission. Two of the spacewalks, including the one Sunday, made the top 10 longest spacewalks in U.S. history. Despite the obstacles, all of the spacewalks have been successful.

ACS is ready to go

STIS is the second Hubble science instrument astronauts revived during this mission. On Saturday, spacewalkers repaired the crippled ACS, another instrument that was never designed to be repaired in space. An initial test showed that the repaired camera was receiving electrical power. Further testing, however, revealed that the camera's high-resolution channel was not functioning.

The ACS is essentially three cameras in one, consisting of a high-resolution channel, a wide-field channel, and a solar blind channel for studying objects in ultraviolet light. An electrical short in 2007 shut down all but the solar blind channel. Scientists are still happy with the fix because the "workhorse" wide-field channel, which generated the bulk of the camera's science results, is operating again. Scientists used the wide-field channel to snap the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an image of 10,000 distant galaxies.

Tune in tomorrow

Astronauts will step out into space for the mission's fifth and final spacewalk. Their tasks will include installing three more batteries, insulation, and a Fine Guidance Sensor. Return tomorrow to read all about it.

5-16-2009
Atlantis Astronauts Make Historic Repair of Hubble Camera
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As Atlantis astronauts ventured outside the space shuttle Saturday, they faced a challenging task: reviving a failed camera on the Hubble Space Telescope that was never designed to be repaired in space.

Spacewalkers John Grunsfeld and Drew Feustel not only fixed the vital camera, they completed the historic repair in one afternoon. NASA engineers had blocked time during two spacewalks to complete the complex work. But the spacewalking duo was so far ahead of schedule that ground controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston gave them the go-ahead to finish the task.

Before starting the repair work, the astronauts successfully installed a new spectrograph. Even with two major assignments, they still finished the day right on schedule, completing their spacewalk in 6 and one half hours. Ironically, this spacewalk proceeded more smoothly than the previous two spacewalks, which hit unexpected glitches on relatively easier tasks that led them to run over schedule.

Atlantis' 11-day mission is NASA's fifth and final service call on the 19-year-old Hubble and includes five back-to-back spacewalks to extend the telescope's lifetime through 2014.

A challenging fix

Repairing the broken camera, called the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), was supposed to be a difficult job. The astronauts had to dig deep into the camera's inner workings to replace failed circuit boards and add a new power supply box. Even Hubble scientists were not certain the astronauts could fix the camera.

An electrical short in 2007 shut down all but one data channel on the ACS. Installed during Servicing Mission 3B in 2002, the ACS became Hubble's new "workhorse" camera, snapping wondrous images of the universe. One of its famous images was the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, a tapestry of 10,000 galaxies stretching back in time.

Until ACS, astronauts had never repaired a Hubble science instrument. Hubble instruments and other hardware were designed for easy installation and removal, not for repair. To help confront this challenge, NASA engineers developed special tools for the ambitious assignment.

The tools worked like a charm. Grunsfeld and Feustel used one of the special tools to cut through bolts on a metal grid on top of the camera's cover plate. Then the high-tech mechanics loosened the 32 screws that held the cover, snagging them in a custom capture plate so they didn't float away.

Loosening half-inch screws may not sound like a tough job, but imagine doing this 32 times with your hand inside a pressurized glove so stiff it's hard to bend your fingers, let alone grab a screwdriver. Now imagine doing this while floating in space.

The spacewalkers then pulled off the cover plate to remove four failed circuit boards.

"Now we're getting to the good part," the spacewalkers joked.

After easily taking out the damaged circuit boards, the spacewalking duo placed a box containing the new electronics in the open slot. They completed the ACS repairs by installing a new power supply to a handrail outside of the instrument and connecting it by external cabling to the new circuit boards.

A test conducted by engineers at Johnson showed that the ACS was receiving electrical power.

"Nice work, guys," said Atlantis Commander Scott Altman. Then he saluted the NASA engineers "who put this plan together in record time to save ACS."

Grunsfeld, who is also an astronomer and is visiting Hubble for the third time, sent his thanks, too. "Thanks very much. It's worth a headline."

Goodbye COSTAR, hello COS

Before the astronauts began working on the ACS, they replaced COSTAR, an 800-pound refrigerator-sized box that contains a set of mirrors which corrected Hubble's "nearsightedness" due to a flaw in Hubble's primary mirror. COSTAR, an acronym for Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement, was installed during the first servicing mission in 1993. Hubble's newer instruments take into account the flaw, making COSTAR obsolete. Astronauts stored COSTAR aboard Atlantis for its return to Earth.

Removing COSTAR made room for the new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), the most powerful spectrograph ever sent to space. COS won't snap the beautiful images of space that Hubble is famous for, but it will separate light into its component colors to determine the composition and temperature of distant galaxies, stars, and planets. The instrument's main goal is to probe the large-scale structure of the universe.

"Beautiful instrument," said Grunsfeld, as he and Feustel were installing COS.

The COSTAR/COS instrument swap went smoothly, taking slightly more than the 2+ hours scheduled for the activity.

Tune in tomorrow

The spacewalking duo of Mike Massimino and Mike Good will attempt another repair, this time, of a spectrograph. Return tomorrow to read all about it.

5-15-2009
Astronauts Overcome Obstacles to Upgrade Hubble
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Atlantis spacewalkers worked overtime for a second straight day upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope. The marathon session lasted nearly eight hours, becoming the eighth longest spacewalk in NASA history.

Replacing the gyroscopes

The problem was a troublesome box, containing a pair of new gyroscopes, which would not fit in its assigned slot inside the 19-year-old telescope. The box, called a Rate Sensor Unit (RSU), was one of three carriers containing Hubble's gyroscopes, or gyros. Hubble has six gyros, which are packaged in pairs inside the RSUs.

One of the day's tasks for spacewalkers Mike Massimino and Mike Good was to replace all six of Hubble's gyros. The devices are part of Hubble's pointing system and help keep the telescope pointing very precisely, allowing it to stay focused on celestial objects for extended periods of time. This helps Hubble produce spectacular images of galaxies, planets, and stars.

Working as a team, Massimino and Good replaced the first RSU with a box of newly designed gyros. Good was working on the 57-foot robotic arm; Massimino was inside the gyro bay. The first replacement worked perfectly. They were not as lucky, however, with the second one. After the spacewalkers removed the old box successfully, they couldn't align the new box with the mounting plate in the RSU slot.

"It just doesn't want to go," Good said.

With input from the crew inside the shuttle and engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the pair swapped the problem box with the third RSU which had not yet been installed. It worked! But their good fortune soon soured. The stubborn box would not fit in the final slot.

So the astronauts went to "Plan B": They retrieved a spare unit and installed it successfully in the final slot. The spare is a refurbished unit that astronauts removed from the telescope in 1999. A test by ground engineers at the Johnson Space Center showed that all six gyros were functioning.

"Mass and Bueno, my friend Leonidas has a few words for you guys that are appropriate right now," said Atlantis commander Scott Altman, using the spacewalkers' nicknames and referring to the Spartan king who died fighting against the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. "Remember this day men, for it will be yours for all time."

The pair finished the gyro replacement almost five hours after they started their spacewalk. By that time, they had fallen nearly two hours behind schedule. The gyro activity was so grueling that Massimino had to duck back inside the shuttle to top off his oxygen supply.

Swapping batteries

Massimino needed the extra oxygen to help Good complete the spacewalk's other main task: replacing a battery module, containing three of Hubble's six batteries. The batteries provide electrical power to Hubble when the telescope is orbiting in Earth's shadow. When in sunlight, Hubble's solar arrays power the telescope's equipment.

Hubble's original batteries lasted about 14 years longer than expected. However, because of aging and cycling, the batteries were showing a slow loss in capacity and needed to be replaced. The astronauts removed the old battery module from equipment bay 2 and installed a new battery module in the same location. The second battery module, containing the other three batteries, is scheduled to be installed during the fifth and final spacewalk.

Massimino and Good ended their extended work day at 3:45 p.m. EDT. Although the equipment they installed today is not as flashy as yesterday's new camera, it is a critical part of Hubble's operational system. In fact, the hardware was one of NASA's top priorities. Without working gyroscopes and batteries, Hubble would not be able to snap images of the universe.

Persistence pays off

Over the past couple of days, the spacewalking team has overcome several roadblocks, including a stubborn bolt and a troublesome gyro box, to make the first two spacewalks a success. Thanks to persistent astronauts, Hubble is now on its way to becoming a more powerful telescope.

Tune in tomorrow

Astronauts will again step into space to perform the third of five spacewalks to refurbish Hubble. They will install a new spectrograph and repair one of Hubble's cameras. Return tomorrow to read all about it.

5-14-2009
Successful First Spacewalk
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As Atlantis astronaut John Grunsfeld floated outside the shuttle at 8:52 a.m. EDT, he launched an ambitious five-day schedule of spacewalks to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope.

Today's 7-hour-and-20-minute spacewalk involved installing a brand new camera and replacing a vital data handling unit that beams data and images from the 19-year-old telescope back to Earth. The 11-day mission is the fifth and last visit to Hubble. The refurbishments will extend Hubble's life through 2014.

"This is fantastic. You're going to love it, Drew," Grunsfeld said to fellow spacewalker Andrew Feustel, who had not yet exited the spacecraft. Grunsfeld, who was making his sixth spacewalk, was the veteran of the pair; Feustel, who was embarking on his first spacewalk, was the rookie. "Too cool," Feustel said when he appeared outside the shuttle a few minutes later.

A grueling day at the office

But joy turned to consternation as the astronauts had trouble with their first task: loosening a latching bolt to release the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) from the telescope. WFPC2 was Hubble's "workhorse" camera that astronauts installed during Hubble's first servicing mission in December 1993. Grunsfeld and Feustel had to remove the veteran camera so that they could install its successor, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).

Feustel, using a ratchet tool, couldn't get the latching bolt to budge. After a little bit of extra muscle, however, Feustel finally wrestled it free.

"It's 16 years old," said Grunsfeld, referring to the instrument's many years in space.

The extra effort consumed several minutes of precious time in the astronauts' action-packed day. The astronauts had already lost time trying to unleash a grounding strap bolt on the same instrument.

Thanks for the images

But that was the only bump in the road for the astronauts, as they worked swiftly to complete the rest of the day's important tasks. After removing the pesky latching bolt, Feustel and Grunsfeld worked together to carefully remove the wide field camera. Feustel was riding the shuttle's 57-foot robotic arm, which was maneuvered by astronaut Megan McArthur inside the shuttle. The astronauts will bring the veteran camera back to Earth. WFPC2 produced many spectacular images, including the Hubble Deep Field, the iconic picture of thousands of galaxies stretching far back in time.

Installing the Wide Field Camera 3

Once the astronauts stowed away WFPC2, they carefully removed WFC3 from its protective case and slid it into the open spot. Ground controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston then tested the camera to make sure it was functioning.

The 900-pound instrument is shaped like a baby piano. The new camera will greatly improve Hubble's ability to image large and distant objects, such as galaxies and clusters of galaxies, as well as planets in our solar system. A key feature is its ability to detect light ranging from ultraviolet to the near infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. WFC3 will be able to observe both young, hot stars (which emit mostly ultraviolet light) and older, cooler stars (which emit mostly red and near-infrared light) in the same galaxy.

Replacing the Science Instrument Control and Data Handling Unit

Working without a break, the astronauts moved on to their next task: swapping a failed data handling computer for a new unit. Called the Science Instrument Control and Data Handling Unit (SIC & DH), the computer routes data and images from the telescope to its mission operations center on the ground. The device is like the voice of Hubble, communicating commands to the science instruments and retrieving the data that the instruments collect.

The spacewalking astronauts replaced the original SIC & DH by opening Hubble's Bay 10 door and loosening the 10 bolts that secure the SIC & DH to the door with a power tool. The old SIC & DH tray was removed from the door and the new unit was installed. The installation was followed by tests from ground controllers to confirm that the new unit was properly installed and functioning.

Ending the day

With their two main tasks complete, the astronauts prepared for tomorrow's spacewalk. Grunsfeld and Feustel installed a Latch Over Center Kit, a device that helps spacewalking astronauts quickly open and close Hubble's bay doors. The pair also added a Soft Capture Mechanism, a device that will enable a safe de-orbit of the telescope at the end of its useful life.

Tune in tomorrow

After a grueling day of work, Grunsfeld and Feustel put their tools away and entered the shuttle for some rest. The spacewalks continue tomorrow with Mike Massimino and Michael Good stepping into space to install new gyroscopes and new batteries. Return tomorrow to read all about it.

5-13-2009
Rendezvous with Hubble
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For seven years the Hubble Space Telescope had been orbiting Earth without any visits from astronauts. Today, the telescope finally received some visitors. The space shuttle Atlantis and its seven-person crew caught up with the telescope and grabbed it at 1:14 p.m. EDT, as both flew 350 miles over the Indian Ocean, above Australia. The telescope is safely in Atlantis' "arms," secured in the cargo bay. Hubble now awaits a service call from the astronauts, who will bring gifts of new parts and state-of-the-art science instruments. The visit will last seven days. This is the fifth time astronauts have travelled to Hubble.

Catching the telescope

Capturing a 12-ton telescope orbiting Earth at 17,000 miles an hour wasn't easy. The shuttle had to get close enough to Hubble to grapple the telescope without hitting it. Prior to the shuttle's approach, ground control engineers gave commands to close the aperture door that protects Hubble's delicate optics and maneuver Hubble into position. At the same time, Commander Scott Altman maneuvered Atlantis underneath Hubble so that the robotic arm could grab the telescope from the side.

This space waltz involved several firings of the shuttle's thrusters to align it with the telescope. Atlantis approached Hubble at a slow crawl, closing the distance between them by less than one-tenth of a foot per second, until it was about 35 feet away from the telescope. Then Mission Specialist Megan McArthur used the robotic arm to grasp the telescope and carefully lowered it into Atlantis' cargo bay, which took about an hour. Capturing Hubble requires a delicate hand in a zero-gravity environment. A slight bump from the robotic arm can cause the telescope to spiral out of orbit.

"Hubble has arrived on board Atlantis," Commander Altman told the ground control crew at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Everybody's very excited up here."

Looking at Hubble up close for the first time in seven years, astronaut and astronomer John Grunsfeld said, "For an old man of 19 years in space, Hubble still looks fantastic." This mission is Grunsfeld's third trip to Hubble. The last time he visited the telescope was during Servicing Mission 3B in March 2002.

Securing Hubble

Once Hubble was captured, the astronauts docked the telescope in Atlantis' Flight Support System (FSS). The FSS is a platform with a U-shaped cradle and latches that secure Hubble in place for servicing. The FSS has the capability to pivot the telescope and rotate it nearly a full 360 degrees to help astronauts complete their work. A cable that is part of the FSS provides power from Atlantis to Hubble to maintain the telescope's thermal control during servicing.

Inspecting the telescope

Once Hubble was successfully docked, the Atlantis crew remotely switched the telescope from internal power to external power from Atlantis and used the camera on the end of the robotic arm to inspect the telescope for damage.

Tune in tomorrow

The astronauts will begin the first of five spacewalks to the Hubble telescope. Return tomorrow to read all about it.

5-12-2009
Getting Ready to Service Hubble

In pursuit of Hubble

The chase is on. The space shuttle Atlantis and its seven-person crew are on the trail of the Hubble Space Telescope. Atlantis is cruising at more than 17,000 miles an hour as it orbits Earth. At that rate, one could travel from New York to California in six minutes! But it will still take Atlantis another day to catch up with Hubble and snag it. The journey takes a couple of days because Atlantis must reach Hubble's altitude and then catch up with the telescope as both spacecraft orbit Earth. So, on this "travel day," the astronauts inspected the shuttle's thermal shield tiles and completed important tasks in preparation for the first of five spacewalks to repair Hubble.

Shuttle gets a checkup

Atlantis' crew spent several hours inspecting the surface of the shuttle for possible damage from yesterday's launch. The crew used Atlantis' robotic arm, with its 50-foot boom extension, sensor systems, and camera to inspect the shuttle's nose cap, wings, upper crew cabin, and the entire underside of the shuttle. This helps ensure that all thermal shield tiles are intact and that Atlantis will be able to make a safe return to Earth.

As engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston watched the inspection, they noticed several "dings" in a few thermal shield tiles on the shuttle's right wing. A team of engineers is studying images of those tiles to determine if any further inspection is necessary.

Thermal shield tiles of different shapes and sizes cover the surface of Atlantis and protect it from heat generated by friction during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Two main types of tiles are used: Low-temperature Reusable Surface Insulation (LRSI) and High-temperature Reusable Surface Insulation (HRSI). LRSI tiles protect the shuttle from temperatures of 700 and 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and are mostly on the top of the shuttle. HRSI tiles mostly protect the bottom of the shuttle from temperatures between 1,200 and 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Inspecting the toolbox

During the shuttle checkup, another inspection was taking place. Astronauts Andrew Feustel and John Grunsfeld were inspecting the spacesuits and tools that will be used during the spacewalks. More than 150 crew aids and tools are available to the astronauts for this mission. Some of the tools are standard items from the shuttle's toolbox; others are specifically designed for Servicing Mission 4 (SM4). All tools are designed for use in a weightless environment by astronauts wearing gloves. Some of the tools slated for use have socket capture fittings so that nothing floats away in space. Astronauts also can use wobble sockets for fasteners in hard-to-reach areas. Other equipment includes tool caddies, tethers, and transfer bags.

Each time astronauts visit the Hubble telescope, equipment and tools are transported on special pallets called carriers. Carriers are designed to transport tools and instruments in the shuttle's payload bay while protecting them during the launch and trip to orbit. Once the mission is completed and new hardware is installed, carriers provide storage space and protection for the old equipment's journey back to Earth.

One last look

While astronauts were checking out the shuttle and their SM4 tools, Hubble was making its last science observations before ground control engineers shut down the telescope in preparation for servicing.

Tune in tomorrow

How do the astronauts capture Hubble and place it in the shuttle's cargo bay? Return tomorrow to find out.

5-11-2009
Atlantis embarks on journey to Hubble telescope
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After a smooth countdown and picture-perfect liftoff, space shuttle Atlantis and a crew of seven astronauts are in space, ready to begin their 11-day mission to service NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Atlantis lifted off Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:01 p.m. EDT.

The visit to Hubble, called Servicing Mission 4 (SM4), will help keep the telescope operational until at least 2013. The launch of the Earth-orbiting observatory aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990 initiated a revolution in astronomy. For the first time, a large telescope that sees in visible light began orbiting above Earth's distorting atmosphere, which blurs starlight and makes images appear fuzzy. Hubble did not disappoint, snapping the first image of a planet orbiting another star, showing that monster black holes reside in most galaxies, and providing evidence that galaxies evolve over time.

Hubble gets a tune-up

SM4 will include five spacewalks, during which astronauts will make needed repairs and upgrades to the telescope. Astronauts visiting the telescope will replace aging parts and will install science instruments with advanced technology, making the observatory better than ever and ready for at least another five years of exploring space.

The installation of new equipment and replacement of some old items such as gyroscopes, batteries and a fine guidance sensor will be challenging. However, it's the repairs that will be the most complicated. Pieces of two of Hubble's instruments, the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), have failed. Astronauts will need to replace specific pieces inside of each instrument. These instruments were never designed to be repaired in space. In fact, they were specifically designed not to come apart. Engineers at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have designed special tools to assist the astronauts with completing this work.

The crew

Atlantis' crew is composed of Commander Scott Altman, Pilot Gregory C. Johnson and Mission Specialists Andrew Feustel, Michael Good, John Grunsfeld, Mike Massimino and Megan McArthur. This will be the fifth shuttle crew to fly to the telescope. Grunsfeld, an astronomer, is making his third visit to Hubble.

Practice makes perfect

The Servicing Mission 4 astronauts practiced many hours in preparation for the mission to Hubble. Practice included working on intricate models of Hubble, such as the one in a huge water tank at Johnson Space Flight Center's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL). The NBL is a 202-foot-long by 102-foot-wide by 40-foot-deep structure that contains a whopping 6.2 million gallons of water, enough to fill about 300 backyard swimming pools. Working under water closely resembles the weightlessness of space, allowing the crew to practice repairs in a low-gravity environment. The underwater environment also helps astronauts learn how to position their bodies and how to maneuver themselves during an EVA (Extravehicular Activity), or spacewalk.

Another part of the mission training included visits to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to participate in a series of Crew Familiarization activities. These activities provided astronauts the opportunity to see all of the actual flight hardware and practice using special tools before the launch.

There is one thing that specifically makes this servicing mission different from previous ones. Another space shuttle is in place and ready for launch, if needed, to rescue the Atlantis crew in the event of an emergency. The shuttle Endeavour is standing by on Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39-B. If an emergency arises with Atlantis, Endeavour will fly to Hubble and retrieve Atlantis' crew within days.

Tune in tomorrow

How will the astronauts spend their first full day in space? Return tomorrow to find out.

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