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Atlantis Mission is proceeding well

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Did you lock the back door?

Did you lock the back door?

At 19.01 GMT the Space Shuttle Atlantis took off on it’s most dangerous mission to date.  Led by Commander Scott T Altman, they were dispatched to repair the aging Hubble space telescope.

The Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope

The mission is unusual in that it will require no less than five EVAs (Extra-vehicular activity), or spacewalks.  This is highly dangerous, so much so that a second Space Shuttle, Endeavour, is on stand-by to launch in case of emergency.

See the launch here:

The list of repair jobs they have been given to do read like the labours of Hercules.  In order they have to:

Fix the telescope’s internal cameras

Replace the solar powered rechargeable batteries

Change Hubble’s radiation blankets

Fit a completely new Data Handling Unit

Install six new gyrospcopes that control which way the telescope points

Very delicate eye surgery on the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph

Fit the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph

Replace the Fine Guidance Sensors

Fit a soft capture collar on the telescope, so then it can be docked by a robot spacecraft in future

Fit the Wide Field Camera, which is a piece of new equipment.

And only then can they go home.  This gruelling schedule will test the astronauts to the limit.

The Atlantis mission was scrubbed once already after the Columbia disaster, and only recently rostered back on.  It is the first time two shuttles have been prepped at the same time, one as back-up.

The crew of the Atlantis

The crew of the Atlantis

The crew of seven consist of:

Commander Scott T Altman, from Illinois, a veteran of NASA missions, this is his second time to the Hubble telescope.  Here is a quick fact:  He  was once a stunt pilot on the film Top Gun.

Pilot Gregory C Johnson, from Seattle.  Originally a Navy Pilot, he has tested experimental aircraft over many years.  He joined NASA in 1998.

Michael T Good is mission specialist number 1.  Essentially the Scotty of the mission, his job is to lead and supervise the repairs of Hubble.  He will personally carry out the second and fourth EVA to Hubble.

K Megan McArthur is mission specialist number 2.  She joined NASA in 2000, and this is her first time in space.  She has however had a lot of experience running missions from the ground, in charge of communications.  Her mission will be totally indoors, assisting and supervising the EVAs.

John M Grunsfield is a physisist who is making his third mission to Hubble.  He knows more about the telescope than any other astronaut and will be taking the brunt of the spacewalks.

Michael J Massimino is another mission specialist.  This is his second time to Hubble and his job is mostly assisting the others.  He has been with NASA since 1996 and is a strong, competent astronaut.

Andrew Feustel is the last but by no means least member of the crew.  He is the last mission specialist and he will be doing no less than three EVAs.  He joined NASA in 2000 and this is his first spaceflight.

In his spare time he restores cars and is a member of the only all-astronaut band, Max Q.  They may get a gig on the moon one day but I am sure they will not be the first ones to play in a place with no atmosphere.

The mission got off to a good start two days ago, with only one red light reported for a circuit breaker than had tripped, but that wasn’t a problem.

They dropped the boosters and the fuel tank and proceeded into orbit.  Once up there they did a post-launch check and opened the cargo bay doors and deployed the Ku band Antenna for clearer reception.

Back on the ground the engineers scouted around the launch site, looking for any debris that may have come off the shuttle during launch.  It was at the launch that Columbia received her fatal damage, although it wasn’t until re-entry that anybody realized.

Once they rendezvous with Hubble the EVAs will commence, in two days time.

The best thing about this mission is that it is taking our minds off Earth and all the gloom.  Recession, Swine Flu, Government corruption, all that gets left at home while we go and explore the heavens.

To follow the mission live from your own mission control, and I thoroughly recommend that you do, follow this link:

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

I will leave you with some of the heavenly images that Hubble has brought to us over the last couple of decades.

A view of the Cosmos

A view of the Cosmos

I never knew Jupiter could be so beautiful

I never knew Jupiter could be so beautiful

Io is one of Jupiter's moons, it is largely volcanic.  Notice the torrent of lava exploding to the left of the moon.  Just imagine that up close.

Io is one of Jupiter's moons, it is largely volcanic. Notice the torrent of lava exploding to the left of the moon. Just imagine that up close.

Mars, our nearest planet

Mars, our nearest planet

The planet Saturn.  The white patch in the middle is a storm as big as our planet.

The planet Saturn. The white patch in the middle is a storm as big as our planet.

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Written by Nick Gilmartin

May 13, 2009 at 3:44 am

Posted in in the news

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