Monday, May 11, 2009

Beautiful Liftoff of STS-125!

Shuttle Atlantis, carrying a crew of seven, lifted off at 2:01 p.m. on an 11-day mission featuring five risky space walks to service and upgrade the Hubble telescope. According to the NASA web site, astronauts will install two new instruments, repair two inactive ones, and perform the component replacements that will keep the telescope functioning into at least 2014. This will be the last mission to the Hubble. (A reminder - STS is the acronym for Space Transportation System. According to a Wikipedia list of space shuttle missions, Shuttle Atlantis has flown 32 flights prior to this one. Images from NASA's web site.)
An Orlando Sentinel story described the Hubble thusly: The Hubble Space Telescope has opened new windows into deep space and enabled astronomers to travel visually to nearly the beginning of time. Orbiting Earth every 97 minutes for the past 19 years, the observatory also has beamed down thousands of stellar and planetary portraits so vivid they appear three-dimensional. Iconic images have included stars in the throes of birth and death, galaxies stalking galaxies and chunks of comet slamming into Jupiter.The spectacular scenes are merely grace notes to astronomers, who use the telescope to probe far-off specks of light for data on movement and molecules. But they've made the school-bus-sized telescope the world's best-known piece of scientific equipment. "Hubble is not just about science," said Roger Launius, a senior curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. "Hubble is about its stunning imagery. We decided space is a beautiful place because of this imagery."

Hubble was not always the success it is today. When it was first put in orbit and turned on, images were fuzzy and distorted, and it was the source of jokes for late-night comedians. But all that was corrected in a 1993 service call, and it has been working like a champ ever since. This image is called The Glowing Eye (photo courtesy of NASA/Hubble Space Telescope). Be sure to follow the link below to the Hubble Site - a great resource. Its spirit line is Out of the ordinary - out of this world, and that's certainly an apt description of the program.

Unfortunately, after today's launch, there are only nine launches remaining. John Kelley writes a space column in Florida Today newspaper, and he sums it up thusly: It's easy to take the shuttle for granted. We've seen it so many times here. It may start to look routine. It's not. Flight after flight, the space shuttle is one of the most amazing things men and women have ever done. Enjoy it. Take advantage of the blessing of living here on the Space Coast. Take in the launch, celebrate a little and remember to congratulate your friends and neighbors who make it all happen.

Hubble Site
NASA Mission Page

Orlando Sentinel: Our amazing view of heavenly space (part 1 of 2-part series)
Orlando Sentinel: NASA brings ingenuity to Hubble repair mission (part 2 of 2-part series)

Florida Today: Savor the awe of these last shuttle launches

List of Space Shuttle Missions

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