NASA delays Hubble servicing mission
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida |
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - A problem with the Hubble Space Telescope prompted NASA to delay until next year a repair trip to the observatory that had been due to launch in just two weeks, the space agency said on Monday.
The Hubble mission had been targeted for takeoff on October 14. Launch likely will be postponed until February at the earliest to allow time for NASA to test and fly a spare computer to fix the problem.
"We'd be hard-pressed to be ready any earlier," Hubble manager Preston Burch told reporters on a conference call.
NASA's next mission, in which the shuttle Endeavour is to deliver equipment to expand the International Space Station's crew size from three to six, might be moved up to November 14 from November 16, said shuttle program manager John Shannon.
Hubble's problem involves a computer that collects and formats the telescope's data for relay to scientists on the ground. The device failed on Saturday night, suspending Hubble operations.
Engineers plan to switch to a backup system on the telescope and test a spare on the ground to see whether it is still suited for space flight, Burch said.
Hubble is expected to be able to resume observations in about a week.
NASA has been preparing the shuttle Atlantis for the fifth and final mission to the Hubble, which was launched in 1990 and orbits about 300 miles above Earth.
The telescope has revolutionized scientists' understanding of how the universe formed, what it contains and how it evolved. It also has taken its place in popular culture, providing images of stars, planets and galaxies splashed in books, television shows, newspapers, magazines and websites worldwide.
The Atlantis crew has trained for an 11-day mission punctuated by five challenging spacewalks. NASA hopes to find time for the crew to install the spare computer during one of those spacewalks.
"If this had to happen it couldn't have happened at a better time," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for science, noting Hubble has overcome adversity before.
After the telescope's launch, engineers discovered its primary mirror was misshapen. NASA developed corrective optics and went on to fly four successful servicing missions to upgrade and repair the observatory.
(Editing by Jane Sutton and Patricia Zengerle)
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