Shuttle retry… and Hubble

Contributed by
Jul 25, 2005
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Note:An interview I did with Paul Harris on KMOX radio about the Shuttle is available online.

Note (July 26, 2005 at 13:37 Pacific time): A lot of the major media are reporting that a piece of foam came off the external tank shortly after the solid rocket booster separation (video from MSNBC). A piece of something clearly does come off, and it clearly misses the orbiter. I'm sure other pieces came off as well; it's inevitable. NASA is investigating the many, many cameras they used to observe the launch, and I'll report here when more is found. Remember too, they have a system to inspect tiles now using what is essentially a camera on the end of long boom, and they'll be taking shots during an EVA (space walk) as well. Also, check out this way cool flash gizmo on MSNBC to see what upgrades have been done to the Shuttle.

Note (July 26, 2005): SUCCESS! The Space Shuttle Discovery is now on orbit after an apparently flawless launch. For more information, try spaceref.com, space.com, and of course NASA.

Two quick notes today:

1) NASA will try to launch the Shuttle once again on Tuesday, July 26, at 10:39 a.m. Eastern US time. The problem with the sensor in the fuel tank was traced to an intermittent shorting of the line. This is true: that was the first thing I thought of when I heard the problem was coming and going. I had the same problem with a poorly insulated distributor line in my old Datsun. NASA needs to hire me as a consultant. Anyway, read more at spaceref.com.

2) Some Hubble news... you probably know that there are all sorts of talks going on about whether to save Hubble Space Telescope (HST) or not. It's expensive, but it's a great observatory; it'll take a Shuttle flight, but that may not be safe; they can just strap on a de-orbiting rocket and ditch it in the Pacific, but astronomers will storm NASA HQ with pitchforks and torches.

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A major problem is time. HST is not in deep space, it's orbiting the Earth only couple of hundred miles up. There is air there... thin, but there. That slowly degrades HST's orbit, bringing it closer to Earth, where the air is thicker, slowing it more, dropping it farther. You see the problem. So they need to either de-orbit it or boost it to a higher orbit as soon as possible. However, a new model of how the Sun is supposed to behave has dealt NASA a slight reprieve. When the Sun throws a temper tantrum, blasting out solar flares and such, those hit the Earth's atmosphere, which responds by puffing up. That means satellites (like HST) can get their orbit decaying faster than usual.

Well, things may be looking somewhat brighter now. A new solar model just came out that says the Sun is expected to calm down for a while. If true, there's not as a big a hurry to take care of HST. That's good news, because any mission to do anything with Hubble involves the Shuttle, and it would be nice to see a couple of successful missions under NASA's belt before they make up their minds about the 'scope.

Read more about it here. I have lots of stuff I've written about Hubble too, on my Bitesize Astronomy pages.