Hubble Trouble May Postpone Shuttle Visit Until 2009

September 30, 2008

A mechanical failure on the Hubble Space Telescope this weekend caused the orbiting instrument to suddenly clam up, according to NASA officials.

The glitch sent mission managers into repair mode just days before the space shuttle Atlantis was meant to make the final servicing trip to the 18-year-old space telescope.

NASA officials now say the mission and its planned upgrades will be delayed and might not happen until at least next January.

Previously slated for October 10, the flight had already been postponed until the 14th to let astronauts recoup training days they missed when Hurricane Ike barreled through Houston, Texas, on September 13.

But just after 8 p.m. EST on Saturday, Hubble put its data-storage computer and science instruments into "safe mode" when it detected errors with its onboard science data formatter, which beams information to Earth.

Mission scientists have not yet pinpointed the cause of the failure, and they were unable to reset the formatter or obtain a memory dump from its computer.

"We've done a fair amount of onboard trouble-shooting," Preston Burch, Hubble manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said during a press briefing yesterday.

"All of the testing and all the efforts have indicated that [the formatter] has totally failed."

Temporary Fix

To resume operations quickly, the scientists are leaning toward switching controls to a duplicate data formatter, called side B, already on board Hubble.

The move should get things working again within two weeks, NASA officials said.

But making the switch would leave Hubble without the kind of mechanical redundancy that guards against such failures, noted Ed Weiler, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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