Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Atlantis Is On Its Way

STS-125 lifts off, May 11, 2009. Image credit: NASA. (Click on image to see it full size.)

While I was away, space shuttle Atlantis launched and reached orbit. Now they're trying to determine if that rescue shuttle will be necessary:

The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis is using the NASA vehicle's robotic arm to determine whether the spacecraft's heat shield was damaged during yesterday's blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The astronauts are using the technology to inspect critical areas of shuttle's thermal protection system, especially on the craft's nose and the edges of its wings. Data and images from the inspection, which is a routine check up after any shuttle launch, is sent down to analysts at Mission Control in Houston, according to NASA.

NASA Shuttle Crew Uses Robotic Arm To Inspect For Damage

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According to the NASA site, they will be replacing the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) with a new one, WFPC3:

The WFPC2 instrument, which was installed in 1993 to replace the original Wide Field/Planetary Camera, will be removed to make room for Wide Field Camera 3 during the STS-125 mission.

During the camera's amazing, nearly 16-year run, WFPC2 provided outstanding science and spectacular images of the cosmos. Some of its best-remembered images are of the Eagle Nebula pillars, Comet P/Shoemaker-Levy 9's impacts on Jupiter's atmosphere, and the 1995 Hubble Deep Field -- the longest and deepest Hubble optical image of its time.

NASA Image Of The Day, May 10, 2009

They'll head to the Hubble Telescope tomorrow, to begin the upgrades and repairs. Meanwhile, here's a pretty picture, courtesy of NASA:

Clicking on the image will show the full size image. The caption for it, which is also from the IOTD site, reads:

This planetary nebula is known as Kohoutek 4-55 (or K 4-55). It is one of a series of planetary nebulae that were named after their discoverer, Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek. A planetary nebula contains the outer layers of a red giant star that were expelled into interstellar space when the star was in the late stages of its life. Ultraviolet radiation emitted from the remaining hot core of the star ionizes the ejected gas shells, causing them to glow.

In the case of K 4-55, a bright inner ring is surrounded by a bipolar structure. The entire system is then surrounded by a faint red halo, seen in the emission by nitrogen gas. This multi-shell structure is fairly uncommon in planetary nebulae.

This Hubble image was taken by WFPC2 on May 4, 2009. The colors represent the makeup of the various emission clouds in the nebula: red represents nitrogen, green represents hydrogen, and blue represents oxygen. K 4-55 is nearly 4,600 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.

NASA Image Of The Day, May 10, 2009

So long, WFPC2, and thanks for all the pics.


NP said...

My father-in-law is a USAF colonel and currently the commander of the AFROTC at U of Central FL. He and my mother-in-law were invited to a VIP tour and got to see the shuttle take off.

I was jealous--usually we can (sort of) see from the house, but because of cloud cover, I couldn't see anything.

Cujo359 said...

Hi, NP. I've heard they're pretty spectacular. I've only been in the area a couple of times, and there were no launches on those days.

NP said...

I definitely want to go up close sometime. It's cool enough seeing it from a distance! Hopefully we can at some point.