Friday, May 23, 2008

NASA Announces Hubble Mission Schedule

via, NASA has announced the scheduled launch of the shuttle Atlantis on Oct. 8 for the fifth and last Hubble Space Telescope maitenance mission. The mission is expected to last 11 days and has five spacewalks planned.

"shuttle astronauts will install two new science instruments plus a set of gyroscopes to help stabilize the telescope, as well as batteries and thermal blankets to keep the observatory operating until at least 2013.

Astronauts will also install a soft capture mechanism that will allow a future unmanned spacecraft to dock with Hubble in about 2020 and de-orbit it for a controlled plunge and disposal in the ocean."

The mission is also expected to attempt the repair of two failed instruments that have not previously been attempted in orbit. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), which failed a year ago this month, have both been instrumental in confirming a number of scientific discoveries.

"STIS separates incoming light into its constituent colors, giving astronomers a chemical map of distant objects. Since its deployment, STIS has been critical in the confirmation of black holes at the centers of galaxies, made the first discovery of an atmosphere around an exoplanet and helped confirm the age of the universe."

The mission is also adding two instruments to the observatory, the Wide Field Camera 3, a "panchromatic" camera, and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), which will examine the 'cosmic web' of dark matter strands connecting various galaxies throughout the universe.

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