Nasa last night confirmed that it is to send astronauts on a daring mission to save the Hubble space telescope.
Veteran astronaut Scott D. Altman will head a seven-man crew which will fly Discovery to the orbiting observatory in 2008. They will carry out vital repairs to extend Hubble’s life and prevent it from falling to Earth.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin announced plans for the mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Maryland.
He told staff: “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. What we have learned has convinced us that we are able to conduct a safe and effective servicing mission to Hubble.”
He added: “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.”
The servicing mission had been called off in 2004 by Nasa’s previous Administrator Sean O’Keefe, following the Columbia disaster that killed seven astronauts.
Hubble needs repairs, including replacement of batteries and gyroscopes that keep it stable. If nothing is done, it will re-enter the atmosphere in a blaze of destruction sometime after 2010.
The telescope, famous for its stunning images of galaxies and other wonders, is in a much higher orbit than the International Space Station. If there was an emergency, astronauts would therefore be unlikely to be able to reach the safety of the station.
But Nasa are planning to have a second shuttle on standby when the servicing mission is launched. If there was an emergency, it would be launched within a week to rescue the first crew.
The rest of the crew named for the Hubble mission are Gregory Johnson, John Grunsfeld, Michael Massimino, Andrew Feustel, Michael Good and Megan McArthur.
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