Posts Tagged ‘Hubble Space Telescope’

“This Week In Space” – August 14, 2010

August 15, 2010

Check out the latest edition of “This Week In Space.”

International Space Station Source: NASA

Hello and welcome – they call them quick disconnect valves – but apparently on the International Space Station – they don’t always live up to their name. One of them – that connected a faulty ammonia pump to the station’s cooling system sent NASA into a tiger team frenzy of troubleshooting and head scratching this week. first time they tried to disconnect it – it spring a huge leak of ammonia – nasty stuff…so they reattached it and then tried again on the next walk – at first it wouldn’t budge. But in the end, the solution was precisely what you or I would have done if it was a pipe under the sink at home – they shook the darn thing like crazy until it came free. Spacewalker Doug “Wheels” Wheelock employed the elbow grease – spacewalking sidekick Tracy Caldwell Dyson was at his side. It was the second spacewalk to replace the pump and get that cooling system back on-line. When it failed – the station still had one other set of operative radiators – but the reduced capability created a significant brown out for the 6 person crew.

Veteran astronaut and spacewalker Dave Wolf was helping lead the effort on the ground to figure out how to solve case of the stubborn valve. I spoke with him via Skype.

Former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and his teenage son Kevin survived a horrific plane crash in Alaska this week that killed five people, including former senator Ted Stevens.  They were on a fishing trip when the amphibious twin otter they were in plowed  into the side of a mountain in bad weather.  Both O’Keefes are banged up pretty badly but are expected to survive. Sean served as NASA Administrator from 2002 to 2005 – he was sent there by the Bush White House to tighten the reins on the space station budget. He ended up leading the agency through the Columbia accident – and offered up a text book example of expert crisis management. Sean was the man who signed on to the idea of sending yours truly to space – an idea that ended with the loss of Columbia. He is a good friend – and I wish him and Kevin a speedy recovery.

A dawn rocket launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station lit up the sky over central Florida Saturday.  That’s an Atlas V rocket, and the payload is the AEHF-1 satellite.  Its one of what will be a network of four military satellites designed to provide global, secure, protected and jam-resistant communications for our armed forces.  Hopefully our troops will have better communication than i get with AT&T on my iPhone.

Good news Space Tweeps. – it’s official NASA will hold another tweet-up at KSC for the next shuttle launch – that’s STS-133, currently scheduled for November 1 (but you knew that).  They are fantastic events – and if you are prone to tweet – you really should put your 140 characters in the ring. This is a good way to satisfy your assignment to see a shuttle launch before it is too late.  Registration opens at noon on Tuesday, August 24, and closes at noon on Wednesday, August 25.  If you want to know more, go to

Hard to believe it’s now been six years since the Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn. And it is still a very busy space probe. So busy it just got another extension – through 2017 – giving it a chance to observe the summer solstice in Saturn’s northern hemisphere.  Here’s a cool new movie from Cassini.   The spacecraft was getting some close-up images of Saturn’s F-ring, and purely by chance captured these images of a globular star cluster passing though the field of view.  That’s NGC 5139, or Omega Centauri – nearly 16 thousand light years away.

As long as we are talking clusters – here’s a long exposure Hubble Space Telescope image of a galaxy in the Coma Cluster, 320 million light years away.  this is a spiral galaxy called NGC 9411 captured face-on.  And the Hubble folks have all kinds of questions about this picture of  NGC 4696.  This galaxy is not a perfect spiral – in fact it curls around on itself, kind of like a question mark.   Astronomers are scratching their heads about it – they have all kinds of questions about why it is  shaped so strangely, and what those filaments that stretch out from it might be. We’ll let you know if they find some answers…

Hubble is a third of the triumvirate of telescopes NASA called the Great Observatories – the other two are Chandra, and Spitzer – together these space scopes see the universe in the optical, x-ray and infrared wave lengths.  Now imagine if they could work together – like the Justice League –  This is a composite image – a super-space-scopes mash-up – of two colliding galaxies located about 62 million light years away.  The Chandra data is in blue, the Hubble data in gold and brown, and Spitzer data in red.  These so-called Antennae galaxies started colliding about 100 million years ago…and they are home to highly active star-forming regions. to infinity and beyond indeed!

Mars. Source: Hubble Space Telescope

Two anniversaries worth noting this week.  Fifty years ago, NASA launched Echo-1, it’s first communications satellite.  It was basically a big mylar balloon – able to bounce television, radio and TV signals cross-country and even across continents.  And five years ago, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched from Cape Canaveral.  MRO has become a workhorse for NASA – imaging the surface of Mars with unprecedented clarity, scanning for minerals and water, monitoring Martian weather, and serving as a communications relay for robotic missions on the surface.

Which brings us to our favorite simulated Mars mission – well I guess it’s the only simulated Mars mission – you know it by now – 6 men entered a human sized hamster habitat in Moscow – and will spend 520 days there pretending to go to Mars, explore the surface and then come back. We have now gone past the seventy day mark – which means they are about 15 percent done! and the video diaries they are posting on YouTube show no signs of reality show style discontent. Here is Romain Charles showing one of the…er…highlights – air sampling:

So Romain what’s up with the white socks and sandals and the wife beater t-shirt? I think that is a fashion don’t on Mars as well…just saying.

And on that note – I am outta here – you can email us a – or tweet us @thisweekinspace – the blog version of this podcast is at But here is the most important thing – please go to – and send us a few bucks – we really need you help – and if you don”t i’ll start wearing a wife beater – and white socks and sandals. Is that extortion? Sorta, I suppose. thanks to our most loyal sponsor ever – Binary Space – we really appreciate your support. We’ll see ya next time.


'This Week In Space' – June 27, 2010

June 27, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available – give us a watch.

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Discovery launch. Source: NASA

Hello and Welcome. we begin this week with shuttle manifest destiny…and the movable feast that the last days of STS launching has become.   It now appears the next shuttle flight – Discovery flying the STS-133 mission –  will launch on October 29, and the STS-134 flight of Endeavour moves to February 28 of next year.   An official announcement is expected on July 1st.  The reason for the delay: scientists need some time to put the finishing touches on the final shuttle payload to the station – the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer,  a particle physics experiment. But we use the word final with some caution – as NASA has not ruled out an encore mission for Atlantis.  Look for a decision on that in August.

Of course there are a lot of people out there who would like to see the shuttles fly on…a new and familiar name is now on the list – Senator John Glenn – the first American to orbit the earth, a bonafide hero and a shuttle veteran as well – released a statement on Obama’s plans for NASA this week. He repeated what he has often said – that the shuttle should stay just a little bit longer…he does support keeping the station going past 2015 – and he agrees a moon base is not  in the cards now – as for the “smaller, less experienced companies” vying to fly cargo – and eventually people – to the space station should be said they should only be phased in only “after they demonstrate a high degree of competency and reliability, particularly with regard to safety concerns.”

In Hawthorne California – at SpaceX headquarters they would beg to differ – with all due respect to the Senator. It’s been a few weeks now since their successful first launch of their Falcon 9 rocket – and they are poring through the data – trying to better understand why they had a late in the count scrub before the launch, why the second stage rolled in orbit – and why they were unable to recover the first stage. Details on all of that and much more are in the full interview I had via Skype with SpaceX’s Ken Bowersox the other day.

Some fire and smoke from an Ariane 5 rocket. It blasted off from Guyana on Saturday. The payload – two satellites.  Arabsat-5A will provide telecom and broadband services to Africa and the Middle East.  The South Korean COMS satellite includes weather observation, ocean surveillance, and telecom payloads.  All eyes will be on Arianespace later this year as they begin launch operations using the Soyuz and new Vega rockets.


'This Week In Space' – May 29, 2010

May 29, 2010

The latest edition of “This Week In Space” is now available.  Check us out!

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Atlantis lands. Source: NASA

We begin at the end this week – the end of an era in space. Well maybe. This was the scene at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday – commander Ken Ham dead-sticking Atlantis down the steep glide slope to Runway 33.  The mission – STS-132 – was the final scheduled flight of Atlantis.  But she is not heading straight to the museums.  She’s now back in her Orbiter Processing Facility – NASA-speak for hanger – where she will be prepped for flight on short notice should there be trouble on the remaining pair of missions. BUT the museums might have to wait –  NASA is leaving the door open to schedule an encore mission for Atlantis. Since there would be no rescue vehicle at the ready – she would likely fly with a scaled down crew that would use the Russian Soyuz as a lifeboat.  NASA will make a decision on this by mid-June. Maybe the shuttle program will end as it began – with a two person crew.

For those of you keeping score at home – If it turns out this was the last ride to space for OV-104 – here are her final game stats:  32 flights – 11 of those to the International Space Station, over 120 million miles on the odometer, 294 days in orbit, 4,649 revolutions around Earth.  She was home-away-from-home to 189 astronauts.  She carried the Magellan and Galileo interplanetary probes to space, as well as the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. She was the first orbiter to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir, and the last one to visit the Hubble Space Telescope. Not bad at all. Way to go Atlantis. Way to go…

He’s the E.F. Hutton of astronauts –  “when he talks, people listen.”  Or would Greta Garbo be a better analogy.  Or maybe J.D. Salinger.  I digress.  You guessed it, I’m talking about Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon, a bona fide National Hero, and a man who chooses his words very carefully. And he has been speaking out recently in opposition to the Obama Administration’s plan to kill the moonshot program known as Constellation. This week, he took center stage again – at a House Science and Technology committee hearing.  He reiterated his support for Constellation in particular and a return to the moon in general. The man has a lifetime supply  of dry powder – and he fired at will:

The issue facing this meeting has produced substantial turmoil among space advocates. So many normally knowledgeable people were completely astounded by the President’s proposal. Had the announcement been preceded by the typical review, analysis and discussion among the Executive branch, the agency, the congress, and all the other interested and knowledgeable parties, no member of this committee would have been surprised by the announcement of a new plan.  In this case, a normally collegial sector of society was split in many fragments, some focused on contracts and money, some on work force and jobs, some on technical choices.    All because a few planners, with little or no space operations experience, attempted an end run on the normal process.    It has been painful to watch.

Armstrong was joined by the last man to walk on the moon- Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan, who also took aim at Obama’s plan, which he views as long on talk and short on funds.  In other words, “show me the money.”

And, when one examines details of the FY2011 budget proposal, nowhere is there to be found one penny allocated to support space exploration. Yes, there has been much rhetoric on transformative technology, heavy lift propulsion research, robotic precursor missions, significant investment in commercial crew and cargo capabilities, pursuit of cross-cutting space technology capabilities, climate change research, aeronautics R&D, and education initiatives, all worthwhile endeavors in their own right. Yet nowhere do we find any mention of the Human Exploration of Space and nowhere do we find a commitment in dollars to support this all important national endeavor. We (Armstrong, Lovell and I) have come to the unanimous conclusion that this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to ‘nowhere.’

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden was also on hand, testifying earlier in the day.  He disclosed that it will cost and estimated four and half billion dollars over five years to implement Obama’s recently announced plan to turn the Orion capsule into an ISS lifeboat – money that NASA will have to take out of other programs.  And he assured the committee that NASA is continuing work on Constellation in good faith. Yes – the work goes on until Congress weighs in because that is the way the law is written. Bolden got an earful from Arizona’s Gabrielle Giffords over NASA’s just-announced decision to reassign the outspoken Constellation Program Manager Jeff Hanley.

Gabrielle Giffords:  Mr. Bolden, my concern is, particularly concerning the news we had last week, that the program manager was actually working hard to make the program work, given the constraints of the budget, but again from where we sit, his work to restructure and potentially save the parts of Constellation that need to be saved, by removing him from his position…I think again it demonstrates to us that the question that I asked you earlier, whether or not you would give this committee your assurance that you were doing everything that you can as NASA administrator to make progress with Constellation for the remainder of FY 2010, when the constellation manager is removed from his position, it frankly makes me personally very dubious that that is in fact happening .  So I’m wondering again, the assurance that you can give us in the united states congress that your actually carrying this out.  and whether or not the program will actually carry forward, and whether or not you are actually planning on replacing him with someone competent, and whether or not you are planning to replace him expeditiously.

Charlie Bolden:  We would replace him with someone who is incredibly competent, I don’t think I have anyone in the hierarchy of the constellation program or anywhere else that is not competent and has my confidence. Jeff Hanley is not leaving NASA.  Jeff Hanley is moving up to become the deputy director of the Johnson Space Center for Strategic Studies and Strategic plans.  He is an incredibly talented individual.  Jeff and I have spoken for quite sometime since I became the NASA administrator, about his future.


Geysers, Oceans and Dinosaurs

February 28, 2010
Jets on Enceladus.  Source:  Cassini

Jets on Enceladus. Source: Cassini

Saturn’s moon Enceladus is spewing out some impressive geysers of water ice.  The NASA/ESA Italian space agency team that flies the Cassini spacecraft just released this composite image captured in November showing about 30 of the jets near the south pole of that moon. The big question for those who are interested in life beyond our planet – could their be liquid water reservoirs beneath the surface?  As you know – wherever water is found in liquid form on this planet – you will find living things.  So…Let me be the first to tell any prospective Enceladians – we come in peace.

SMOS Image.  Source:  ESA

SMOS Image. Source: ESA

Another ESA satellite is focused on water as well – just a little closer to home…These are the first calibration images from the the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity – or (SMOS) mission.  – Launched in November this satellite is designed to help scientists better understand the water cycle on earth – and that will help them improve weather and climate models.

Jurassic Space.  Source:  Hubble Space Telescope

Jurassic Space. Source: Hubble Space Telescope

Kids love space and dinosaurs – so I have always believed if we could just put a dinosaur into space – we would have a nation of space loving high achievers in math and science…well voila…astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found some galaxies that are tantamount to seeing a dinosaur wander into your backyard. It’s a group of small galaxies that are still in the early stages of formation – but they are much closer to us – only 166 million light years – and thus much younger than galaxies at a similar stage that scientists have seen before. For some reason these small galaxies waited 10 billion years to get together.  Now that’s a long courtship…see this story in video form here.

Watch Enceladus and SMOS stories on “This Week in Space” version 8 here:

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Seasons in the Sun

February 13, 2010
Hubble Space Telescope.  Source:  NASA

Hubble Space Telescope. Source: NASA

Astronomers may have downgraded Pluto to dwarf planet status – not that there is anything wrong with that – but this denizen of the distant fringe of our solar system never stops triggering our imaginations. Check out these images from the Hubble Space Telescope – 384 of them in all – shot between 2002 and 2003.  lead investigator Marc Buie, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, calls it his best guess at a true-color appearance” of the dwarf planet. The images also show evidence of ice melting a refreezing as the seasons change – it takes Pluto 248 earth years to make its way around the sun – and you think this winter has been long and cold?

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Hubble Hugger-In-Chief

January 15, 2010

Hubble Space Telescope.  Source:  NASA

Hubble Space Telescope. Source: NASA

If you are anything like me, you were on the edge of your chair last summer, watching the crew of the shuttle Atlantis grind out five marathon spacewalks for a final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Atlantis crew really hit it out of the park, installing some new instruments, and resurrecting some old ones that had seemed broken beyond repair.

The lead spacewalker was John Grunsfeld, on his third Hubble Servicing Mission.  I had the good fortune to do an unique underwater interview with him in the run-up to STS-125, as he practiced some of his tasks in the pool at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.  I even tried my hand with the pistol grip tool…that’s NASA-speak for an electric screwdriver…and believe me they just make it look easy.

So now Hubble is churning out great images like this – and should be for another decade…

But what now Columbus? What does a Hubble Hugger do for a next act?

The obvious choice: join the team at Hubble Headquarters.  That’s the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.  Grunsfeld – who has a PhD in physics – is the new deputy director.  I Skyped  him the other day to hear more about that final repair mission, and where he and where Hubble go from here.  Read the transcript, or watch below:

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Next "This Week In Space" on track for Friday 1/15

January 13, 2010

twis300We are in the final run-up to the next “This Week In Space,” hosted by Yours Truly!  Check us out on Friday for the latest on the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the ISS, probes on Mars, a Skype interview with Hubble-Hugger-In-Chief John Grunsfeld,  an in-depth report on the Lunar Orbiter Image Restoration Project, and much, much more…

We got great response to our first show…give us a try!  You might like us.  You might really, really like us!

Watch us:
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Twitter: @ThisWeekInSpace

Hubble Hugger-In-Chief

January 8, 2010
Grunsfeld's favorite new Hubble Image, the first taken with the new Wide Field Camera 3. Proves they didn't break the telescope!

John Grunsfeld's favorite new Hubble image, the first taken with the new Wide Field Camera 3. Proves they didn't break the telescope!

I just finished a great Skype interview with Mr. Hubble Space Telescope himself, astronaut (ahem! now former astronaut) John Grunsfeld.  Fresh off last summer’s hugely successful STS-125 Hubble Servicing Mission, Grunsfeld has stepped down from the astronaut corps to join the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, better known as Hubble Central.  He’s pretty jazzed to be taking on a leadership role now that the newly refurbished Hubble has cranked into high gear for another go ’round re-writing the science textbooks.

We talked all about the challenges and triumphs of STS-125, reminisced a little about the pre-flight SCUBA dive I took with him in the big pool at the Johnson Space Center whike he was practicing on the Hubble mock-up they have there, and of course got his thoughts on Hubble’s future.  You can watch the whole thing on our next edition of “This Week In Space.”  A little taste…check out Grunsfeld’s favorite image from the newly installed Wide Field Camera 3!

The Hubble Constant: High Interest

May 25, 2009

The Ten Billion Dollar Man - Last Shuttle-eye view of Hubble.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Hubble Repair Missions. After all, I cut my teeth on the space beat covering the legendary STS-61 mission in December 1993 – the first, the most dramatic – and certainly the most important – of the five astronaut telescope calls now inscribed in the space history books.


Astronaut Story Musgrave fixing Hubble on STS-61.

So I must confess I am a bit wistful – even a little misty – now that it is all over. We will no longer have the good fortune to witness the live drama of human beings pushing the envelope of impossibility to improve a machine that pushes the boundaries of our understanding of the universe.

Over the years, sixteen Mr. Starwrenches finessed, improvised – and sometimes used brute force – to fix what ailed Hubble – or make it better. It was Reality TV for the Space Cadet Nation.

Today old man Hubble embarks on its final scientific chapter much better than new – as if he were The Ten Billion Dollar Man.

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was before. Better. Stronger. Faster.

But if I am getting all blubbery over this space bookend, you can only imagine what it must be like for Dave Leckrone – a Hubbler for 33 years now – the last 16 of them as the Project Scientist.

Last week, he startled into consciousness the normally somnolent media assemblage at your typical NASA news briefing by saying something that was (a) candid, honest and heartfelt (b) off the talking points (way off), and thus, (c) newsworthy.

“It just makes me want to cry to think that this is the end of it,” Leckrone said. “There is no person out there, there is no leadership out there, there is no vision out there to pick up the baton that we’re about to hand off and carry it forward.” [ has the salient question and response isolated here.]

Now this kind of thing simply does not happen at a NASA briefing. But Leckrone is retiring on October 1 and rightly feels he has nothing to lose – and maybe something to gain – by venting at this stage of his career.

Dave Leckrone

Dave Leckrone

He was quickly smacked down by his boss, colleague and frienemy Ed Weiler – who rules the Kingdom of Science at NASA Headquarters.

“There are no other satellites up there to service other than Hubble…why is that?” Weiler asked rhetorically when we spoke on the phone the other day as he waited on the wrong coast for Atlantis to come home.

Ed Weiler

Ed Weiler

“You gotta realize the guy (Leckrone) is coming from a very, very narrow focus,” said Weiler. “(Hubble) is the grandest, most wonderful Redwood tree in my forest, but I have to worry about the whole forest of science missions.”

And Weiler claims in his ten year stint as NASA’s top science manager (“Code S”), not a single scientist with a wild idea for a mission has asked that it be designed to be serviced by astronauts.

The main argument here is over the Benjamins (isn’t it always?). Hubble has cost the taxpayers about ten billion non-inflation adjusted dollars since the beginning. That is a big number to be sure. Hubble’s successor – the James Webb Space Telescope slated to launch in 2014 – carries a $4.5 billion price tag – which, when adjusted for inflation, is equivalent to our $1.5 billion down payment on the Hubble program three decades ago.

Webb is not designed for astronaut servicing – it is headed a million miles out into the space – to an orbital sweet spot in our solar system called a Lagrangian Point – out of human reach with any spacecraft currently available or on the drawing boards.


The James Webb Space Telescope

Webb is not going to be cheap – but it will certainly be cheaper than Hubble. Or will it?

I also reached out to Dave Leckrone – he too was cooling his heels in Florida – presumably making separate dinner plans than his boss. Leckrone reminds us when you add in the five astronaut servicing missions – and subtract for the flawed, blurry mirror that hobbled Hubble at the outset, you could make a good case that there have now been three distinct Hubble Space Telescopes.

I realize the Blue Light doesn’t exactly start flashing there, but that does change the amortization and depreciation schedules significantly doesn’t it? So could the Hubble model of space astronomy actually be cheaper?  Well no one can say for sure.

“No one has ever commissioned a proper, academically rigorous study of that cost trade,” said Leckrone.  So whenever you see (Weiler) saying that (astronaut servicing) is more expensive, he is saying it on intuition.”

The agency is conducting a $20 million study to get definitive answer, but that seems like a waste of money because the question is utterly moot given what lies ahead once the shuttles are pickled and chalked on museum floors.

The successor to the shuttle -the Apollo-like Orion Capsule – is not designed for this kind of work at all. It doesn’t even have an airlock or a robot arm. It is nothing more – or less – than a (hopefully) reliable, safer taxi to space for humans…not that there’s anything wrong with that. It is just not a space work platform like the shuttle.

Orion Capsule

Orion Capsule

Still, as part of Leckrone’s public rebuke, the NASA PR machine churned out this statement from spokesman Grey Hautaluoma: “There is nothing about the (Orion) architecture that would preclude satellite rescue work.”

True in the narrowest parsing of the word, I suppose. But the Space Cadet Nation knows the real score here.

So will there ever be another Hubble? As he unfailingly does, Ed Weiler cut to the chase: “Probably not, because there won’t be a shuttle.”

Indeed, Hubble and Shuttle are inextricably linked – both conceived and gestated with each other in mind in the seventies.

“They are like two kids growing up in the same family,” says Weiler. “They impacted each other’s designs.”

In fact, Hubble’s mirror is 2.4 meters in diameter so that it could fit in the Shuttle cargo bay – and it flies in Shuttle striking distance (low earth orbit) even though that is by no means the ideal place to park a space telescope (half the time, Mother Earth proves to Hubble she would be a better door than a window).

So what happens now that we don’t have Hubble to tinker with?  Leckrone worries we will eventually forget all that we have learned during the Hubble years – through tears, sweat and spherical aberration.

“It leaves us in the incredible position of losing amazing capabilities we once had and not being able to recover those capabilities in our lifetimes,” he told me.

Sounds grim, but truth be told, astronauts are still proving their spacewalking mettle on the space station – you just don’t hear about it in the mainstream media very much. Sadly, most Americans do not fully appreciate the amazing accomplishment that is the International Space Station. They overlook its incremental role in pushing out the frontier and see it more like a big public works project. Whether or not the widget attaches to the gizmo “nominally” just isn’t enough to sell the program outside the Space Cadet Nation.

But Hubble literally has a wider field and thus it fires synapses in both hemispheres of our brains. The beauty and wonder of its images appeal to poets as much as engineers – and the extravehicular repair work might as well be performance art.

John "Hubble Hugger" Grunsfeld

John "Hubble Hugger" Grunsfeld

That is one thing that the scientists may be overlooking as they green-eyeshade the future of man and/or machine in space. Everyday people have connected with this shiny, silver telescope in ways that transcend Hubble’s stack of peer-reviewed discoveries that have sparked the biggest revolution in astronomy this side of Galileo.

Maybe it is the hard-luck comeback, sad-sack to superstar tale…maybe it is the stunning, ethereal images from the (now retired) Wide Field and Planetary Camera-2 (see the greatest hits on Universe Today)…or maybe, just maybe, it’s those spacewalks…those high-tech, high-drama ballets in the void. Man meeting machine in the harshest environment of all.

"The Pillars of Creation"

"The Pillars of Creation"

Leckrone’s conclusion: “the astronomical community has not been enamored of this because they had this prejudice that space shuttles and (human) spaceflight are expensive and it is not something they want to get involved in.”

But let’s not forget that first Hubble servicing mission was among the most important missions in the history of the space program – no matter which side of the flow chart you report to. NASA was a laughingstock, Congress was poised to stop the Space Station before it was built – and no one was certain how much practical building an astronaut could do in space anyway. It is not an understatement to say that stunningly successful mission saved Hubble, the Space Station, and for that matter, the space program as we know it.

Fixing Hubble saved NASA and made a lot of people smile and think maybe humans really do belong in space after all. So now that this chapter is closed, who or what is the agency’s new lifeline to a blasé, apathetic public?

Parting Shot from Atlantis

May 21, 2009

The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis is now in the homestretch of a mission for the record books. The crew is cleaning up the orbiter. Mike Massimino says the place is littered with “garbage” and looks like a teenager’s room after the parents have been gone for a few days. Landing at the Kennedy Space Center is set for 10am EDT tomorrow (Friday). But the weather is looking dicey.

On Saturday, NASA will activate its backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in the High Desert of California. If the weather is still not favorable for landing in Florida on Saturday – but the forecast for Sunday is improved – mission managers may elect to keep Atlantis in orbit for another 24 hours – making Sunday the get on the ground no matter where day. Check out mission coverage for the latest.

Someone on the crew also took the time to take this great shot – which is now my desktop wallpaper. You can find it here if you want to do the same.