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viernes, 22 de mayo de 2009

Need Satellite Repairs? Don't Call NASA

Need a satellite serviced? Don't call NASA.

With the return of the shuttle Atlantis crew, which has spent the past 10 days on a mission to rejuvenate the Hubble Space Telescope, the U.S. space agency is going out of the satellite repair business.

"It just makes me want to cry to think that this is the end of it," said David Leckrone, the Hubble senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Half the 10 shuttle missions NASA has flown to service orbiting satellites have been to Hubble, which was launched in 1990. The initial visit was needed just to get Hubble operating properly after a flaw was found in its primary mirror.

The Atlantis crew is scheduled to land Friday after NASA's fifth and final mission to the iconic observatory before the shuttle fleet is retired next year.The new ships being designed to replace the shuttle will not have satellite servicing capabilities, such as the shuttle's big cargo bay, which can double as an orbital workshop.

"That's just a shame to abandon one of the most impressive, refined, sophisticated capabilities that this agency as a whole, human side and robotics side, has achieved," Leckrone said.

"I'm not talking about re-servicing Hubble," he added. "I'm talking about the hard-won loss of capability -- and costly capability."

NASA wants to retire the shuttle for safety and cost reasons, but also to forge ahead with a new exploration initiative to send astronauts beyond a few hundred miles of Earth, which is the shuttle's limit. The first target for the program, called Constellation, is the moon.

A space shuttle test in the Cubrc facility in Buffalo, N.Y. The wind tunnel has been upgraded to generate wind speeds up to 30 times the speed of sound and will be used to test NASA's Orion spacecraft. |

Atlantis astronaut John Grunsfeld said the expertise NASA honed servicing satellites is being put to use aboard the International Space Station, a project of 16 nations that is scheduled for completion in 2010.

"Every day on the space station some kind of maintenance is done with people and they do spacewalks," Grunsfeld said during an in-flight press conference on Wednesday. "NASA's mission to further these techniques will only increase with the station as it has on Hubble."

NASA's first orbital servicing call was in 1984 to the Solar Max satellite, which had been launched four years earlier to study flares. Spacewalking astronauts replaced its positioning system and repaired its coronagraph.

Among the most daring recoveries was a 1992 shuttle flight to capture a commercial communications satellite that was left in an unusable orbit after a botched launch. The astronauts came up with a plan for an unprecedented three-man spacewalk to grab the spacecraft by hand after two previous attempts using a special capture bar failed.

"To be able to go out in spacesuits and perform extraordinarily intricate operations ... and do it successfully, I think that is one of the most remarkable achievements that NASA has ever done," Leckrone said.

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