The astronauts have wrapped up repairs on Hubble, and released it back into orbit (as of 8:58 EDT this morning)! This mission was just astounding from beginning to end. I didn’t get a chance to blog about it (because hey, it was sunny for once in Seattle), but Sunday’s repair of STIS was another day of drama, with one of the astronauts literally having to rip a handle off the instrument to get access to the panel they needed to unscrew. (Oh, and get this — they then had to peel off a g*ddm sticker to get at some of the screws! Oy.) Monday featured installation of new “outer blanket layers”, which help insulate the telescope. Installation was smooth, except for an accidental head doink on an antenna by John Grunsfeld (which is the first sign that any of the people up there right now may in fact share genetic material with the likes of me). Phil has been doing a great job keeping up on the spacewalks on Twitter, if you want a more detailed blow-by-blow.
The next phase is “Servicing Mission Observatory Verification” (SMOV), during which all the new instruments are put through their paces. This process is expected to take about 3 months, with early release images coming out in early September, with science programs expected to start running not long after. I’m getting myself prepared to be blown away!
PS. Oh, one random bit from my trip to the launch. I got to meet Dennis Overbye. I felt a bit like an 11 year old girl meeting a Jonas Brother.
The various instrumental failures over the past few years had reduced Hubble to being a telescope that could only take images. Those images have been fantastically useful, scientifically. However, much of astrophysics requires spectroscopy, which analyzes how much light an object emits as a function of wavelength.
Andrew Feustel and John Grunsfeld have now successfully installed the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS). UV spectroscopy has now returned! (provided the instrument actually, um, works).
They’re currently stowing the bit they took out to make room for COS, and then will move on to the very challenging repair of the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). At this point, even if the two upcoming instrument repairs fail, the telescope is in great shape for many more years of science!
UPDATE: They just announced that ACS passed the “aliveness” test, finishing up ahead of schedule. Unbelievable.
Back when the current Hubble servicing mission was in jeopardy, there was talk that perhaps the repairs could be done robotically, without the expense or danger of a manned repair mission.
Well, on Day 2 of the repair spacewalks (EVA’s), I think we now know why sending a manned team might have been a good idea.
On the first EVA, one of the bolts holding in the old camera (WFPC2) in wouldn’t release. After running through every single contingency plan, Andrew Feustel eventually had to get out a non-torque limited wrench, and just plain guess how much torque to apply to the bolt, hoping all the while that it didn’t shear off. Maybe a robot could have handled that one, but I’d rather have a former Jaguar repair jock on the job (h/t commenter Peter).
On the second EVA, the situation was equally tricky. While the astronauts successfully extracted the gyroscopes, a pair of the new ones simply would not fit in. Luckily, they were able to grab some refurbished spares, that fit in just fine, but not after a couple of nerve-wracking hours digging deep into the contingency plans.
So, I’m two-for-two on being glad that actual humans were involved in these tasks. Given the trickery that’s going to be involved in tomorrow’s repair of the Advanced Camera for Surveys (think 100+ screws taken out by a guy wearing high-tech ski gloves), I’m guessing that tomorrow will be another hair-raiser.