The U.S. space agency said today it will send a space shuttle crew to repair the malfunctioning Hubble Space Telescope. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin this morning told agency employees at the Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., that astronauts will make one final house call to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope as part of a mission to extend and improve the observatory's capabilities through 2013.
"We have conducted a detailed analysis of the performance and procedures necessary to carry out a successful Hubble repair mission over the course of the last three shuttle missions," Griffin said. "What we have learned has convinced us that we are able to conduct a safe and effective servicing mission to Hubble. While there is an inherent risk in all spaceflight activities, the desire to preserve a truly international asset like the Hubble Space Telescope makes doing this mission the right course of action."
He also announced the team selected to accomplish the repair mission. They are: Scott D. Altman, commander; Capt. Gregory C. Johnson (USN-Ret.), pilot; and John M. Grunsfeld, Michael J. Massimino, Andrew J. Feustel, Michael T. Good, and K. Megan McArthur, mission specialists.
The fifth, and final, mission to Hubble should take place in mid-2008, the agency said in a statement. It said that mission planners are working to determine which shuttle to use for the mission, while minimizing impact to the ongoing assembly of the International Space Station. The Hubble has been suffering from a faulty gyroscopic sensor that prevents it from properly orienting its position in space. Plans call for the repair crew to install a refurbished Fine Guidance Sensor to replace the degraded unit, one of the three already onboard. They will also attempt to fix the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, which failed two years ago. It is used for high resolution studies in visible and ultraviolet light of both nearby star systems and distant galaxies.
In addition, the astronauts will carry upgrade components to the Hubble. According to NASA, the two new instruments are the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). The COS is the most sensitive ultraviolet spectrograph ever flown in space. It will probe the cosmic web, the large-scale structure of the universe whose form is determined by the gravity of dark matter and is traced by the spatial distribution of galaxies and intergalactic gas. The WFC3 is a new camera sensitive across a wide range of wavelengths, including infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light. It will extend the "vision" of the orbiting telescope to the early and distant galaxies beyond Hubble's current reach.
"Hubble has been rewriting astronomy text books for more than 15 years, and all of us are looking forward to the new chapters that will be added with future discoveries and insights about our universe," said Mary Cleave, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.