Letting go of Hubble –
“What stands out most vividly in my mind is all things that did not go right.”
Eric Berger – Apr , (9:) am UTC
“From the time we disconnected Hubble from the shuttle’s power, we had two clocks running,” explained Bill Reeves, who was the mission’s flight director and supervised operations from Johnson Space Center. “The telescope was on battery power from that moment, and there was a limited supply. And with the telescope attached to the arm, the shuttle had to be on free drift, as thruster firings might damage the instrument.”
When ground controllers commanded the telescope to begin unfurling its two solar arrays, one of the arrays did not do so properly. Minutes turned into hours as engineers on the ground troubleshot the problem. Reeves had a contingency plan for this, of course. It entailed sending astronauts Bruce McCandless and and Kathryn Sullivan outside the shuttle to manually deploy the arrays.
After Hubble deployed, the shuttle retreated half an orbit away, in case some immediate problem arose that the crew needed to fix. (There wasn’t, as the scientific commissioning of the instrument would not happen for a couple of weeks). If Hubble’s problems were bad enough, the STS – 150 The crew had plans to bring the telescope back to Earth in Discovery’s payload bay. The shuttle was slated to land on the longer Edwards Air Force Base runway in California, instead of Florida, because of the possibility of coming back heavier, with a damaged Hubble in tow.
Because there were no apparent problems while they remained on orbit, the astronauts were given the all-clear to return five days after launching. Upon the shuttle touching down in California, Reeves recalls telling his flight controllers, “You people have no idea what you’ve just done.” The Hubble Space Telescope, he said, would change the way humans looked at the stars.
For a while, Bolden recalls being on top of the world after landing. Like everyone else, the astronauts eagerly awaited the first image from the telescope, a shot of a distant star named HD (captured on May) , . Their elation was crushed when the first picture turned out to be blurry and only marginally better than ground-based telescopes. Soon, astronomers realized the telescope had a warped mirror.
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