Planetary Society volunteer Ken Kremer is reporting for us from the Kennedy Space Center, where he is anticipating the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis to the Hubble Space Telescope on May 11. Kremer is a research scientist and freelance journalist who spends his spare time giving public outreach presentations on behalf of The Planetary Society as a volunteer and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a Solar System Ambassador. He also enjoys creating Mars mosaics. Thanks Ken!
First, let me please wish Emily and family all the best on the birth of her second child, the most precious gift imaginable. And thank you to all at The Planetary Society for the opportunity to guest blog from the Kennedy Space Center press center and launch facilities on the imminent and exciting shuttle flight to Hubble. Previously it was my privilege to report to you all on the successful blast off of the Dawn Asteroid Orbiter in September 2007 and which recently flew past Mars, my favorite planet, for a gravity assisted boost towards Vesta.
The final Space Shuttle flight to NASA's orbiting Hubble Space Telescope is set for blast off on May 11 at 2:01PM EDT from Launch Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This will be NASA's 5th and final shuttle mission to service and upgrade Hubble. The stakes could not be higher for this action packed, dauntingly complex and long delayed mission. It's certain to be "High drama at the High Frontier" for this flight designated as SM-4 (Servicing Mission 4).
Hubble has suffered "significant deterioration" in its science capabilities since the last servicing mission (SM-3B) conducted in March 2002, according to Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. The seven year gap between servicing missions is "twice what it should be", says David Leckrone, Hubble project scientist at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, MD. "We need surgery to get back to 100%".
On average NASA dispatched servicing missions to Hubble at roughly three year intervals. The long delay is a direct consequence of the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia on re-entry in February 2003 and the death of the entire seven person crew of men and women. Indeed this final servicing mission was outright cancelled in 2004 as "too risky" by then NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe in the wake of the Columbia tragedy. The subsequent NASA Administrator Mike Griffin reinstated the mission in 2006 after exhaustive further analysis and development of a new plan which includes simultaneously placing a back-up shuttle on Launch Pad 39 B if required to mount a quick response