Space Debris Misses Atlantis, Hubble's Extreme Makeover Begins
debris from an exploded 2007 Chinese weather satellite safely avoided, the
Atlantis crew May 14 began the first major repairs to the Hubble Space
Telescope since 2002. The four-inch piece of debris came within approximately
1.7 miles and 492 feet below the Atlantis and the attached Hubble at 7:28
"No action was required for the crew," NASA commentator Pat Ryan said on NASA TV.
The danger from debris averted, Atlantis mission specialists John Grunsfeld and Drew Feustel left the space shuttle at 8:52 a.m. May 14 for the first of five scheduled spacewalks to upgrade the 19-year-old Hubble. The mission is NASA's fifth and final trip to Hubble and the repairs and upgrade should keep Hubble operational until 2014.
The first major task faced by the astronauts is to replace Hubble's Science Instrument Command and Data Handling Unit, the computer that sends commands to Hubble's science instruments and formats science data for transmission to the ground. Just 17 days before the originally scheduled Hubble mission, the SCI/DHU malfunctioned and forced a delayed launch until May 11 as NASA enginners prepared a new unit.
As of midday, Feustel had removed the old computer from the telescope by releasing 10 bolts. Feustel will carry the old unit to Grunsfeld, where the two will swap. Feustel will then carry the new computer back to the telescope and install it, while Grunsfeld stores the old one inside the carrier.
Later in the day, the pair will remove the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 and replace it with a new wide-field camera, allowing the Hubble to take large-scale, extremely clear and detailed pictures over a very wide range of colors. NASA said at ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, the new camera represents a dramatic improvement in capability over all previous Hubble cameras.
The new camera and a new spectrograph to be installed later in the mission will complement the scientific instruments already on the telescope, in particular the workhorse Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.
"After we get done with it, it's not an old telescope," NASA Project Scientist David Lekrone told CBS News. "Every subsystem that needs refurbishment is being refurbished and it's getting a new complement of instruments. So the only part of it that's old is the optical metering structure and the glass. And the glass doesn't care. When they're done, it really is not an old telescope, it's a new telescope."
If time permits in the six-hour spacewalk, Feustel and Grunsfeld will also install a soft capture mechanism, which will allow future vehicles to attach to the telescope. Their final scheduled task for the day will be to install three latch-over-center kits that will allow for faster opening and closing of the telescope doors during the third spacewalk.