All Systems Go for Final Shuttle Mission to Hubble Space Telescope

The countdown for the fifth and final service trip to the Hubble Space Telescope begins May 8 with the space shuttle Atlantis scheduled for a May 11 launch from the Kennedy Space Center. The final voyage aims to repair failing instruments and install a new camera and spectrograph that should extend the life of Hubble by five years.

NASA said May 8 all systems are go for a May 11 manned mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The deployment of Atlantis to the Hubble -- which is in desperate need of repairs -- represents the space shuttle's fifth and final trip to the space telescope before the fleet is retired in late 2010.

The seven-man crew will conduct five spacewalks to install two new instruments, repair two inactive ones and perform component replacements over the 11-day mission to keep Hubble operational through at least 2014.

In addition to the scheduled repairs, Atlantis will also carry a replacement Science Instrument Command and Data Handling Unit for Hubble. Hubble's current system stopped working on Sept. 27, 2008, delaying the servicing mission until the replacement was ready.

"All of the systems are in great shape," reported NASA Test Director Jeremy Graeber during a countdown status briefing at the Kennedy Space Center. "Launch countdown preps are complete and we don't have any issues to report right now."

Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters said there was only a 20 percent chance that weather could cause issues at the preferred launch time of 2:01 p.m. EDT May 11. The team has a May 11 launch window of about one hour that opens 20 minutes earlier at 1:41 p.m. The mission has a three-day window for launch before having to delay until May 22 due to a conflict with a military launch.

Launch procedures get underway May 11 with personnel taking their places at 3:30 p.m. By 4 p.m., the countdown will begin, ticking backward from T-43 hours. At the launch pad, Atlantis' payload bay doors will be closed.

Veteran astronaut Scott Altman will command the Atlantis with retired Navy Capt. Gregory C. Johnson serving as pilot. Mission specialists rounding out the crew are: veteran spacewalkers John Grunsfeld and Mike Massimino, and first-time space fliers Andrew Feustel, Michael Good and Megan McArthur.

NASA describes the flight as a "mission to once more push the boundaries of how deep in space and far back in time humanity can see. It's a flight to again upgrade what already may be the most significant satellite ever launched."

Altman added, "Hubble puts cutting edge science together with a visual image that grabs the public's imagination. I think that's the first step in exploration. Because Hubble takes light that's been traveling for billions of years, sucks it in and shows it to us. It's like taking you on a journey 13 and a half billion light years away while you sit there at home and look out at the universe."

The astronauts' primary focus on the voyage will be to replace Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera with a newer, more powerful model and to install a new spectrograph, an instrument that breaks light into its component colors, revealing information about the objects emitting the light. The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph sees exclusively in ultraviolet light and will improve Hubble's ultraviolet sensitivity at least 10 times, and up to 70 times when observing extremely faint objects.

The new wide field camera will allow Hubble to take large-scale, extremely clear and detailed pictures over a very wide range of colors.The new camera and spectrograph will complement the scientific instruments already on the telescope, in particular the workhorse Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.

The repair work and the installation will require a different type of spacewalk than astronauts encounter on spacewalks at the International Space Station.

"It's more like brain surgery than construction," explained Lead Flight Director Tony Ceccacci. "On station spacewalks, you're installing large pieces of equipment - trusses, modules, etc. - and putting it together like an erector set. You can't do that with Hubble. Hubble spacewalks are comparable to standing at an operating table, doing very dexterous work."