Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hugging Hubble

Star-Birth Clouds in M16: Stellar "Eggs" Emerge from Molecular Cloud (NASA Hubble Photo)
From the NY Times: Last Voyage for the Keeper of the Hubble
"On May 12, he [Dr John Grunsfeld] and six other astronauts commanded by Scott Altman are scheduled to ride to the telescope’s rescue one last time aboard the shuttle Atlantis. This will be the fifth and last time astronauts visit Hubble. When the telescope’s batteries and gyros finally run out of juice sometime in the middle of the next decade, NASA plans to send a rocket and drop it into the ocean.

If all goes well in what Dr. Grunsfeld described as “brain surgery” in space, Hubble will be left at the apex of its scientific capability. As chief Hubble repairman for the past 18 years, he has been intertwined with the Hubble telescope physically, as well as intellectually and emotionally. “He might be the only person on Earth who has observed with Hubble and touched Hubble,” said Bruce Margon, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and former deputy director of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Last September, Dr. Grunsfeld and his crewmates were two weeks from blasting off for Hubble when a data router failed, shutting down the telescope until a backup could be booted up. The servicing mission was postponed so that NASA could prepare a replacement router, adding another degree of difficulty to an already crowded and high-stakes agenda.

To accommodate installing the new router, mission planners had to cut into the time allotted for the repair and resurrection of Hubble’s main camera, the Advanced Camera for Surveys. That repair was originally scheduled to happen over two spacewalks, and now planners are hoping to be able to do it a few hours on one spacewalk.

If it cannot be done, Dr. Grunsfeld said grimly, the pictures that have inspired people around the world, pinpointed planets around other stars and helped investigate the fate of a cosmos dominated by dark energy will be lost.

If anybody is up to the challenge, it seems to be Dr. Grunsfeld, who will be making his fifth trip to space."
Comment: The photos from Hubble have been so awe inspiring. For me it is like being able to imagine in a very tiny way God's creative and majestic working in our universe. The beauty of seeing pictures of stars being born and galaxies spiraling and shapes is so beautiful and inspiring.  It is a reminder to me that God is still creating and we are called to be co-creators with God. When we put our energies and talents to creating whatever is good, whatever is beautiful we are faithful stewards of the creative abilities we have been given. I do hope the repairs are successful. It has been a wonderful journey and I don't want it to end.

Later on in the article there is the interesting observation: '“In space you can get in touch with your quantum self,” Dr. Grunsfeld said. “I was a human cosmic ray detector.” He said he could identify the different kinds of particles zooming through his eyeball by how bright the flashes were.'  Wow, that's pretty amazing. A human cosmic ray detector. How fun would that be.
I would love to hug Hubble and I envy Dr Grunsfeld who has and will. "It will be with mixed emotions, Dr. Grunsfeld said, that he hugs Hubble for the last time — the last time that any human will touch it. “I try and tell myself it’s just a satellite,” he said.

It isn't just a satellite, really. When they were going to let it die school children raised pennies to send to NASA so they would keep it going. Hubble is a symbol of the richness that can come from scientific research. What this research will mean eventually for the good of humankind, I probably won't be alive to see, but those beautiful pictures will continue to inspire and I hope bring some closer to the One who created everything there is and to  the Incarnate Word who was there in the beginning.

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