The Hubble space telescope which has been helping mankind get a better understanding of the universe for 19 years, was in serious need of an overhaul. A seven member crew flew aboard the space shuttle Atlantis this month to give the orbiting telescope its fifth and final repair. The mission lasted 13 days and began by first pulling the telescope to the shuttle’s payload bay. Then the crew needed five spacewalks to replace the telescope’s batteries, gyroscopes, data-handling unit and added a host of new instruments such as a new camera and spectrograph.
The mission turned out to be tricky, say some reports, because although the telescope is installed in space, it was not designed to be fixed there. Once the crew was done with the repairs and upgrades, astronauts used the Canadarm on the space shuttle to grab hold of the telescope and move it out of the shuttle’s payload bay and back into space. After distancing itself from the telescope the Atlantis fired its engines to make its return trip back to earth. But the return trip was not as simple as expected. Stormy weather over Florida made it impossible for Atlantis to land safely. So the shuttle was diverted to California. T
he two day delay increased the risk profile of the mission and also caused the mission to shoot up economically. The Hubble telescope, although not mankind’s only telescope in space, provides scientists and space enthusiasts a lot of information about the mysteries of space. Because it is in orbit, it can take very sharp pictures of deep space without the trouble of background light — a problem that Terran observatories have to deal with. It has sent to earth the most detailed visible-light images ever taken of the universe’s most distant objects.
Among its other achievements is accurately determining the rate of expansion of the universe. Hubble has also helped scientists find out how old the universe is — 13.7 billion years, that black holes are at the centre of most galaxies, and details of planetary formation. NASA hopes that with this latest infusion of life, the telescope will be up and running for at least the next five years.