At 2:01pm on May 11, 2009 (1:01pm in Chicago), I ran back from lunch to watch the Atlantis blast off to Hubble! Seven astronauts are now on flight aboard Atlantis to repair the Hubble Telescope for the last time. For 11 days, these astronauts will spacewalk to replace gyroscopes, cameras, batteries, and more so that the Hubble Telescope can continue observing the extraordinary until the James Webb Telescope kicks in in 2014.
Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch Video
The science from the Hubble Space Telescope has been extraordinary: using the Hubble Telescope scientists determined that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, discovered evidence of dark energy, found a planet 5,600 light years away that is 13.7 billion years old, saw colliding galaxies, stars exploding and dying, swirls of gas and clouds on cosmic dust, and more. The Hubble has enabled scientists to see what really is out of this world.
For the astronauts on the Atlantis, it is a dangerous and risky endeavor to repair the Hubble Telescope. Four shuttles have flown to Hubble to fix it and have returned safely, but in 2004 Columbia was obliterated upon its return to Earth because its heat shield had been damaged at takeoff. Ever since 2004, all shuttles have flown to the International Space Station, so if need be the astronauts could remain in the station until rescue. Hubble, however, is too far from the International Space Station, so the Endeavour is on the launch pad prepared to go up if a rescue mission is needed. Endeavour would lock onto Atlantis using a robotic arm and the astronauts would then space walk from Atlantis into Endeavour to return to Earth.
Without the science from Hubble, it would be a very different universe, and scientists can't wait to see more of it! The question is will it be a fix for Hubble?
Author's Note: This was submitted to the blog by Heather, one of our corespondents.
Editor's Note: For more blogs from Dr. Rabiah, visit Science Chicago's website at: http://www.sciencechicagoblog.com