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Welcome back Atlantis, good luck Frank! May 26, 2009

Posted by Sarah in belgium, science, space.
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Welcome back Atlantis

After a fascinating 13-day mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, Space Shuttle Atlantis and its crew touched down safely at Edwards Air Force Base on Sunday 24 May. Welcome home Atlantis! The mission to repair and upgrade Hubble was closely followed by space and astronomy enthusiasts around the world (yup that includes me), thanks to the great coverage on NASA TV.

A welcoming ceremony is taking place today at 4 pm Central Time, watch it live here.

I’m delighted the astronauts got the job done and Hubble is ready for its final stint. Unfortunately I had to miss the landing as I was on a little jaunt around Britain to attend some meetings and catch up with friends and family.

Great also to have Mike Massimino back on live twitter, telling us all about the weirdness of being back on Earth.

Good luck Frank!

Frank-De-WinneThree astronauts will take off from the Baikonur cosmodrome tomorrow for the International Space Station. Representing the European Space Agency is Belgian Frank De Winne, who will also become the first European commander of the ISS during his 6-month stay. Good luck Frank!

Read more about the mission here. Watch a Q&A session with him on ESA’s YouTube channel here.

Image: G. Blevins/LA Daily News

Hugs for Hubble May 16, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science, space.
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Astronaut Andrew Feustel trying to find hole F and bolt C. I wonder what it feels like to have your feet strapped in for 8 hours?

Astronaut Andrew Feustel trying to find hole F and bolt C. I wonder what it feels like to have your feet strapped in for 8 hours?

The Hubble Space Telescope has been receiving some astronaut love this week as part of its 4th servicing mission, NASA’s final upgrade for the 19-year old observatory. The Atlantis crew have already carried out some crucial repairs in two lengthy space walks on Thursday and Friday: the famed WFPC2 camera was decommissioned and replaced by the shiny new wide field camera, WFC3, and new batteries and gyros have been installed to power up the telescope for a further 5 years of operations.

Following the demise of Columbia in 2003 the future of the servicing mission was thrown into serious doubt. Many considered the cost and risk of sending astronauts to Hubble too high in view of the safety concerns surrounding the Shuttle, and suggested NASA design a robotic servicing mission to Hubble. But the astronauts have well proven their worth this week, with several problems cropping up during the space walk that perhaps a robot would not have been able to deal with so easily. Julianne discusses the same point on Cosmic Variance.

The spacewalks can be followed live on the internet and, while the spacewalks last many hours, the coverage makes for fascinating viewing (at NASA TV). Spaceflight Now has excellent coverage on the whole mission, follow them on twitter to stay up to date.

A full schedule of the mission is here. The NY Times have a really cool interactive feature on Hubble and the repairs. Some amazing pictures have appared online, like today’s APOD (also on Bad Astronomy, here).

Image: NASA

APOD: Shuttle magic May 13, 2009

Posted by Sarah in pics, space.
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In keeping with this week’s Launchtastic theme, today’s APOD is a beatiful picture of Space Shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Atlantis is currently under way to rendez-vous with the Hubble Space Telescope to carry out essential repairs to ready the telescope for 5 more years of science operation.

Click to enlarge.

Image credit: Charles Danforth (CASA, U. Colorado)

The reinvention of Hubble May 11, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science, space.
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If you’re into space and astronomy, then I can’t imagine you don’t already know that the 4th Space Shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, aka Pimp my Space Telescope, is launching today. Yes, TODAY! How long have we been waiting for this? It seems so long. So what’s happening? In their 11 days in space,  mission astronauts will undertake 5 spacewalks to make some crucial fixes and replacements to Hubble. Two brand new instruments, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Wide Field Camera 3 will be installed, setting the telescope up for 5 more years of Hubble goodness.

WFPC2, the camera that was responsible for so many of Hubble’s amazing images, will now be decommissioned. NASA released a final pretty picture from the camera yesterday, of planetary nebula K 4-55.

A final goodbye from WFPC2

A final goodbye from WFPC2, planetary nebula K 4-55

Mike Massimino, one of the astronauts on the Space Shuttle crew, has been twittering about his preparations for the mission. It’s been amazing to follow first-hand how astronauts prepare for these things and how they feel – particularly for this mission that is so long-awaited. Brilliant job Mike, thanks to you and all the crew, and safe travels tonight!

The launch is planned to take place at 2:01 EDT (check here what that is in your timezone) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Watch it live over on NASA TV, and follow updates on twitter. NASA’s official page for the mission is here. Blogs with more mission information over at astropixie and Cosmic Variance.

Update, 11/05: Wired Science have a useful guide to following the Shuttle launch live, here.