Monday, May 11, 2009, 2:01 EDT
This will be the 5th and final Hubble repair mission.
With two non-functioning cameras, the orbiting telescope is all but blind now. NASA engineers readily admit that they’re going for broke with this ambitious mission, which will replace those cameras and upgrade a host of other sub-systems on the 19 year old observatory. Says Tariq Malik at Space.com:
If all goes well, the astronauts will leave Hubble’s vision and science capability more powerful than ever before by the end of the 11-day mission. Atlantis is also carrying a set of IMAX 3-D cameras to document Hubble’s last service call for a film slated to be released in spring 2010.
HST was designed to last a minimum of 15 years in space, but it was hoped that with well timed servicing missions it would be up there for 25. With this mission, the telescope should easily be able to last that long. Getting to this point has been sometimes problematic.
NASA canceled an Atlantis mission to extend Hubble’s operational life in January 2004 because the trip was considered too risky in the wake of the 2003 Columbia tragedy that killed seven astronauts. But public pressure and the development of safer shuttle technology led the U.S. space agency to reconsider.
As I type this, the weather report for launch could not be better.