The Hubble Space Telescope has new eyes and a new nervous system. It took all of the astronaut Andrew J. Feustel’s experience as a mechanic and an old Jaguar restorer, however, to accomplish the eyeball part.
The first task on a five-day set of repair and maintenance spacewalks from the space shuttle Atlantis was to install a new camera, the Wide-Field Camera 3, on the Hubble. But to get it in, astronauts first had to remove the old camera by unscrewing a seven-foot bolt known as the “A” latch, which was last moved in 1993 when astronauts on the first Hubble servicing mission installed the camera.
At first, the latch did not want to move. For about an hour, Dr. Feustel, working on the end of the robot arm, tried a variety of computer-controlled wrenches and settings, while John M. Grunsfeld, mission specialist, floated about fetching tools.
Finally, mission controllers gave Dr. Feustel permission to apply as much muscle as he wanted, even if the balky bolt broke. If that happened, the old camera, which has performed flawlessly for almost 16 years, would have to stay in the telescope and the new $126 million camera would have to go home — not a great start to the servicing mission.
But the bolt finally budged and then turned freely. “Woo hoo, it’s moving out,” Dr. Feustel said.
“That’s been there for 16 years,” Dr. Grunsfeld said.
Dr. Feustel replied, “And it didn’t want to come out.”
An hour later, as the Atlantis was sailing over the southwest Pacific, Dr. Feustel was sliding the new camera into the telescope and latching it down. Controllers from the ground reported that the camera had passed electrical tests and was “alive.”
Good news for science, good news for expanding our knowledge of the universe.
Seeing further back towards the beginning of the current incarnation of the known universe is likely to provoke as many questions as answers – but, that’s what sound science very often accomplishes. Then, we move forward from there.
Good scientists don’t worry about everything being “known” at some point in time. They just understand that everything is knowable.