Keeping Hubble from being hobbled

With a repair mission seriously in doubt, time is starting to run out for the aging Hubble Space Telescope. Late last month, NASA took steps to conserve a key piece of equipment on the orbiting observatory. Engineers shut down one of Hubble’s three gyros, devices that enable the telescope to point precisely toward a celestial target and maintain a steady gaze. Although the telescope normally uses all three gyros for this steering, the observatory can make do with two by relying on another device.

The agency estimates that, in the absence of a maintenance run, preserving the life of the third gyro could keep Hubble working through mid-2008, 8 months longer than otherwise expected. Earlier this year, after urging by Congress and the National Academy of Sciences, NASA reinstated a canceled shuttle mission that would install new gyros, batteries, and instruments in the observatory. However, NASA has delayed all upcoming shuttle missions after loose pieces of insulation hit the shuttle Discovery during a July flight, the first since the fatal flight of Columbia in February 2003. Damage to NASA equipment in Louisiana from Hurricane Katrina may further delay additional shuttle flights, and priority will be given to those missions servicing the International Space Station.

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