The Mission

Oct 31, 2006 11:28pm

Godspeed the crew of Discovery.  I mean that.  I got to talk to several of the astronauts who just got the nod to go repair the Hubble Telescope, and one can’t help but wish them well.  We have more HERE, in the event you missed it.  NASA did half a dozen briefings with them, and has posted more HERE.  Most likely, if they’d been announced in 2002, we wouldn’t have paid any attention.  The zeitgeist was completely different.  There had been four Hubble servicing missions already, and the fifth was going to be more of same–replace the batteries, upgrade a camera, fix a few aging circuits. Then came Columbia, and since then, the sturm und drang over whether to try one more Hubble mission has been NASA’s messiest quandary.  What if history repeated itself, and a shuttle reached orbit, only to have a hole in its wing?  If you’re servicing the International Space Station, you can take refuge there for a couple of months while another shuttle comes to get you.  But the Hubble is in a completely different orbit. NASA may be fighting the last war.  If it loses another shuttle crew, it won’t be because of the external-tank foam that felled Columbia, and it won’t be because of the famous O-rings that destroyed Challenger 20 years ago.  But the astronauts have to live with all this, and they were very patient with our questions. “I feel like a mission to Hubble is worth risking my life for," said John Grunsfeld, the seniormost of the spacewalkers assigned to the flight. With luck, he won’t have to. (NASA photo of John Grunsfeld during the last Hubble servicing mission, STS-109 in 2002.)

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