Q: The final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope was on track to fly in 2008 until unforeseen events in space prompted new plans. STS-125 astronaut Mike Massimino is here to update the plans to upgrade Hubble. Mike, what was it that happened back in September that caused the postponement of your mission?
Preflight Interview: Mike Massimino, Mission Specialist
A: Well, what happened was a piece of equipment on the Hubble broke, more or less. It was the SI&DH (sic) is what they call it. What that stands for is Science Instrument Command and Data Handling system.
What it does, is it sends down the fancy pictures that Hubble takes, sends them down to the ground, so the scientific instrument means it handles the science instruments as opposed to what the power or the position of the telescope is. This thing sends down the science data to the ground and receives what they’re looking for and shoots down the nice images, and that thing stopped workin’. Now it has two sides to it. It has an A channel and a B channel, two sides, so, they were able to get the B side up and working. But now if they were to lose the B side, then they’re out of luck. So the telescope is working right now on the B channel to send the data down. What we’re going to do is we’ll go up there and bring a new box with us and replace it. This box wasn’t ready to go when the problem happened so they had to get the new box ready to go.
Let me make sure we understand now. The, the telescope is still making observations?
It’s working fine. I mean, it still needs some repair and but…was working like it was before this little problem.
…the Science Instrument Command and Data Handling system failure means it can’t send any of what it’s learned to Earth.
Right. It can on the B side; it can, so what we are getting, the images down, but it only has one side left, so it has a redundant side, has an A side and has a B side. So we have two chances, right, two channels. And it’s nice to have redundancy because something breaks you have a backup, you know. You have two light bulbs in your house, so one goes out you can still see, but if the second one goes out you’re out of luck, it’s dark, right? We’re back in the Dark Ages. And that’s the situation we’re in right now. The A side is down, it failed, but the B side is working, so they’re still able to get the images down from the telescope, but if the B were to fail we’d be out of luck. So it would be kind of silly for us to go up there and put all this new fancy stuff in there, and then leave and then if the B side were to go down, you know, at some point, then we’d be out of luck. The thing would be working great but you can’t see any pictures, so we are going to go up there with the new box that’ll have a new A and B side, so it will have redundancy and hopefully the, both channels will be working and then we’ll be able to leave it there with the confidence that in case this problem happens again, we won’t be out of luck; they’ll still have a, a backup channel for it.
What have the folks at the Goddard Space Flight Center had to do in order to get this replacement hardware ready for you guys to take up and install?
The replacement, actually was the backup unit for the one that they launched in space and they had a little competition, a little runoff. It’s kinda like tell me what refrigerator is better. They had which one of these units is better, before they launched the telescope, and the better one they put inside of the telescope and launched it. The other one they left behind and put it in storage, nice storage, it wasn’t in a closet or anything, they kept it, and they kept it kind of alive so it wouldn’t rot or anything over all these years. Ah, and they brought it out and they started testing it and they found out there were some things they needed to fix. So they had some things they needed to improve on and there’s new technology that’s come in over the past few years and they wanted to upgrade it a little bit. So it wasn’t ready to go. It needed to be, it needed to be, be repaired—I don’t know if “repaired” is the right word but, improved, so it would work the way they, they wanted it to work, and, , and make sure it would check out and all that. And that takes time and that’s why we’ve been delayed all these months.
The job of installing the new hardware has fallen to John Grunsfeld and Drew Feustel on the first EVA.
How has adding this extra task impacted the overall plan for the spacewalks that they, and you and Mike Good, are going to conduct?
Well, they weren’t really doing anything anyway so we just, no, just kidding. No, what we did is we just kind of moved things around a little bit and we put it on the first EVA because it fit there and we wanted to make sure this thing was working at the beginning. By putting it in on the first spacewalk we can see whether or not it’s going to work, and if we have a problem with it, we might be able to do something to recover but we need, like I say, everything can be working great but we don’t get the pictures down it really doesn’t do us any good, so we need to see and get the fancy pictures down and all the data down. So what we took off from that first EVA was a new battery that we were going to put on. So that now gets moved to the fifth spacewalk, OK? And on the fifth spacewalk we were hoping to have some time to maybe catch up on some things that we were trying to fit in on the third spacewalk, to repair the Advanced Camera for Surveys. We had kind of divided that up into two. So what we’re hoping to do is be able to finish, we’ve gotten real good at that Advanced Camera for Survey[s] task, so we think we can get the Advanced Camera for Survey[s] task complete on the third EVA, which frees up the time on the fifth EVA for the battery which moved from the first EVA, so…
So everything that was on the agenda beforehand is still there…
It’s still there except we don’t have as much margin, but hopefully we’ve gotten good at what we’re doing and, and everything’ll work out well and we’ll be able to complete everything. We don’t really, when I say we don’t have margin is that if something happens where we don’t get one of the repairs done on the instruments or, you know, the other tasks we had planned on the other spacewalks if something happens there we don’t get to finish ’em, something is going to fall off the plate. So we’re hoping for success and that we get everything done, and if everything goes according to plan, we didn’t have to, we didn’t have to leave anything off, and that’s what you were asking. Everything’s still there, just moves around a little bit.
How have you and your crewmates then taken advantage of this time to get ready?
We’ve been able to take naps and relax a little bit, spend some time with the family, we’ve had a few, actually take the vacation that I had accumulated over the last few years. I got a chance to take some time off around Christmas which was nice. And, relax, get into shape, a little bit more—you know, I actually went into a post-flight thing, it seemed to me. It was interesting when you go into space and you come back it’s kind of like, oh, the mission is over and you kind of let loose a little bit, you know, you relax, you maybe have a, an extra hamburger once in a while, or watch more TV than normal or, you know, do that kind of stuff that you don’t normally do, and what happened to me with this time when we got postponed, it was almost, I think my body went into the post-flight situation, you know, where, OK, it’s time to kick back and relax. So I got a chance to take it easy for a little bit, although we were still doing refresher training. We kind of went down to a normal work week. Instead of working mad, crazy people around the clock trying to get ready, and we were very close—I mean, I think we were about a week shy of going into quarantine so we were busily getting the last things ready, you know. When I found out what happened, I got a phone call on, on Sunday before it was announced on Monday, kind of got a heads up on a Sunday afternoon that this was coming, and I was cleaning out my wife’s car—that was one of the things I wanted to do before I went into space. I had to get a few things done at home and I wanted, one was clean out that car, you know, before I went into space, and I was in there, you know, with the cleaning rag inside of the car—I never did the outside—I was inside doing this and then we got this phone call, so it gave me a chance to, to finish both cars; instead of just my wife’s, I got to clean mine as well and do some other stuff around the house. And we’ve had a chance to re-examine some things we were doing and, and brush up on some of the stuff, but we were so close to leaving, that it’s been mainly just kind of not forgetting what we had learned. We were ready to go at that point. So we go and we do a practice in the pool, practice our spacewalks every once in a while, and we have a few sim[ulation]s here and there and so it’s mainly refresher training. And then coming up to speed on the new tasks that we have with the new piece of equipment we’re going to put in, so…
The pace of all the training starting to pick up as you…
Yeah, now it’s starting to get busy again as is what happens. We’re getting now where we’re a couple months out and it starting to ramp up. We spent this last week, in fact, yesterday we were still at the pool, at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, our big pool, practicing our spacewalks. We finished those up yesterday and, you know, I was in a class this morning before I got a chance to speak to you and more stuff this afternoon and the rest of this week and, and we’ll be getting back to our regular, more intense training load to make sure that we’re ready.
You all set and eager to go?
Yeah I am. I’m starting to get—you see, you get real excited, it’s like anticipating Christmas. And then, three days before, no, no no, we’re not having Christmas right now; go, go, come back, we’re going to have Christmas in July or something. That’s kind of like what this was like so, I don’t want to be fooled again; I felt like I was fooled, you know, ’cause I was really excited, felt ready to go, even had my wife’s car cleaned, I mean how much more ready could I be—and then they said not, you’re not going, so it was a bit of a letdown and, but now we’re starting to ramp up and I am starting to get excited about it again. It’s an extraordinary opportunity. It’s a lot of work and, it’s a lot of responsibility to go up there and do all this but it is just an incredible experience. I just, sometimes at night walking the dog or looking around, I look up and figure, hey, you know, a couple months I’ll be headed up there, you know, and it’s just such a huge opportunity and a wonderful experience, that yeah, I’m looking forward to again. But I was at that point a few months ago and, you know, we, we got delayed but, you know, I, I’m getting there again where I’m really, really excited about it, actually believing that we’re really going to go again so, yeah.