Astronauts ready for Hubble mission

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This mission was cancelled twice, at one point turned over to robots and most recently delayed for seven months so scientists on earth could build a new component. It was at times a victims of budget concerns and the over-reaching question: Why do we have to do it?

The seven astronauts set to meet up with Hubble next month provided a pretty convincing answer.

After listening to these astronauts talk about Hubble, you get a new appreciation for what this orbiting eye is doing for us down here.

To literally be looking at the first light of the universe, I think that's pretty interesting and pretty amazing," said astronaut Mike Good.

From the earliest days of the Hubble mission, the telescope's been exciting earthbound scientists, allowing them to look at questions we've all thought about at one time or another.

"Are we alone? Are there earth-like planets out there? And Hubble can get us a little bit closer to answering those questions," said Dr. John Grunsfeld.

By looking at the stars and at times the dust around planets, Dr. Grunsfeld thinks we can answer that very question. Grunsfeld is a Hubble vet who's been there twice before for repair missions. When he's back on earth, he endlessly studies the images the telescope sends back.

However, for the next month he will be intensely focused on his job as part of the crew that will repair or replace tired, broken and outdated components inside.

"I do feel like I've trained my whole life for this mission," said Dr. Grunsfeld.

All of these astronauts are Hubble fans and they should be, considering they've spent two and a half years getting ready for this. On Thursday, they were asked about their favorite photo Hubble has sent back. Everyone had one, but Drew Feustel's seemed most appropriate.

"I have a new favorite image. I think it just came out a few days ago. It's a big question mark. I saved it as a screen saver on one of our computers at home. It's pretty spectacular and I think it's Hubble's way of asking us what's next?" said Feustel.

So what is next for this crew? The shuttle launch is scheduled for May 12. It's a little different than most shuttle missions since they are going to Hubble, which is 130 miles past the space station where most shuttles go. When they dock at the station, the crew can make sure the shuttle is safe to come home. That's not an option this time. If something goes wrong, there is a second space shuttle on the launch pad ready to serve as a rescue mission should they be needed.

Hubble is about the size of a large tractor trailer truck. It travels fast and completes one orbit around the earth every 96 minutes. The farthest objects Hubble has seen are galaxies well over 12 billion light years away.

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