The space shuttle mission launching today (around 2:00pm ET) has a very special task. It is going to take some astronauts up to do some crucial repairs (see story here) on the Hubble Space Telescope. It is the last such mission (Hubble will be retired into the Pacific eventually) and has been long awaited. Please keep your fingers crossed for a successful mission to keep such an important scientific instrument working for another five (or so) years to teach us more about the universe. (Go to the Hubble site here.)
NPR had a rather good piece about the special tools that were designed to allow these repairs to be carried out. The point is that the astronauts are not just swapping out parts or modules that were designed to be swapped out (like you do a light bulb, a shower head, or a shaving foil), but they have to go in and take out things deeper in the innards, such as circuit boards. Now, having spent many frustrating hours of my life dealing with tiny little screws and so on and so forth when tinkering with circuit boards (one will maybe get its head stripped so that you can’t get it out easily (or at all), and another almost always promptly falls out of the hole, off the screwdriver, and down into the innards of the computer or radio I’m working on), I am in awe of this operation. They’ll be undoing hundreds of tiny screws, and imagine doing that with big fat gloved hands! The good news here is that they have a tool to help them avoid the big-hand-lost-screw issue, but all the same…. Amazing.
The NPR piece, by Nell Greenfieldboyce, is here. There’s audio and a (longer, more content) transcript. Also, there’s a photo gallery of some of the tools.