Thursday, February 21, 2008

Welcome home Atlantis!

Space Shuttel Atlantis lands after a mission to the International Space Station Image Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls

Yesterday morning, the space shuttle Atlantis landed after a 13-day mission to the International Space Station. The mission added a new science laboratory to the Space Station, and, more importantly, took the crew safely to space and back.

Atlantis's next flight will be the next and final repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. The fifth servicing mission (called "Servicing Mission 4", because Servicing Mission 3 was split into two missions, and because, well, sometimes people just can't bring themselves to make sense) will fix up Hubble and allow it to live another 5 years or more. Hubble will get new batteries, new gyroscopes, new cameras, new pointing systems, and some other general repair work. Astronauts will also attach a docking port that will allow a future rocket to attach to the telescope to bring it down safely when its useful life is over.

The trip may also mark Atlantis's last trip into space. Right now no future flights are scheduled for this shuttle, and it may be used for parts to keep Discovery and Endeavor flying until the shuttles are retired in 2010. But all of that can change.

Most of us in the astronomical community are sitting on pins and needles, hoping that the mission is a success and is safe. And, in the meantime, we cross our fingers for every shuttle launch, hoping for safe travels for our astronaut friends!

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