The Real World: Star Trek

NASA sets back-up plan for Atlantis’ takeoff this week to repair Hubble

By Ginger Harris
|  Saturday, May 9, 2009  |  Updated 1:45 PM EDT
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The Real World: Star Trek

AP

Atlantis is ready for takeoff, as is Endeavour, just in case.

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This is the true story of seven astronauts picked to fly in a space shuttle …

In a mission that’s more real than anything you’ll ever see on the “Real World,” Atlantis is ready for takeoff this week to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. And, just in case, Endeavour is also ready for launch, should Atlantis find itself in trouble.

This double-booked launch pads marks what is expected to be the last time the event will happen, as well as the last repair job on the 19-year-old telescope.

Endeavour is sitting on standby because the mission is even more dangerous than rocketing into space in the first place. In fact, just five years ago it was called off because NASA feared it was too risky to take such a measure.

Risky meaning if Atlantis suffers serious damage during launch or in flight, the astronauts will not be at the international space station, where they could take refuge for weeks while awaiting a ride home. They would be stranded on their spacecraft at the Hubble, where NASA estimates they could stay alive for 25 days before running out of air.

The Atlantis astronauts, however, say there's a slim chance any rescue will be needed, and they would fly to Hubble even if there were no such backup plan.

Whether he’s brave or just plain crazy, Scott Altman, Atlantis' commander, said it may seem like overkill, but having a rescue ship on the pad is the right thing to do.

On top of the usual launch and landing dangers, the Atlantis crew faces an estimated 1-in-229 chance that a piece of space junk or a micrometeoroid will cause catastrophic damage to their ship. Those are greater odds than for a typical shuttle flight because of Hubble's extremely high and debris-littered orbit 350 miles up.

To better their odds, Atlantis astronauts will fly to a lower, cleaner altitude as soon as they complete work on Hubble.

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