The crippled Hubble Space Telescope's main camera still may be able to search for other solar systems, a step toward determining if life exists elsewhere in the universe, a scientist with the project said.
To conduct the search, Hubble was designed to watch six to eight stars for several years to see if they slowly wobble - a sign that the stars are being tugged by gravity from orbiting planets, said Jim Westphal, principal scientist for the Hubble's wide-field and planetary camera.Despite a flaw that prevents proper focusing of the observatory's mirrors, "It's entirely possible we can still do that," said Westphal, a professor of planetary sciences at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "We should know a week from now," after computerized tests are completed.
To learn if a star wobbles, the telescope simply must accurately determine the star's position relative to stars around it.
"We don't really care how sharp the image is," Westphal said Thursday by phone from Maryland, where he was helping NASA officials deal with the Hubble's troubles.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced Wednesday that an apparent flaw in manufacturing one of the $1.5 billion telescope's mirrors left the wide-field camera virtually useless, while its faint-object camera would perform no better than a telescope on Earth. The performance of two of three other instruments also will be impaired, NASA said.
The wide-field camera, built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, already was scheduled to be replaced in June 1993 by space shuttle astronauts who were to install a more advanced camera now under construction at JPL. The agency now expects to change the optics in the new camera to compensate for fuzzy focus caused by the mirror defect.
Atlantis leaking fuel
Dismayed engineers testing the shuttle Atlantis' fuel lines Friday detected a leak similar to one that grounded Columbia last month, a potentially major setback for NASA that likely will delay the ship's July flight. The leak showed up around a 17-inch "disconnect" fitting where the shuttle's primary hydrogen fuel line enters the belly of the orbiter. A formal flight readiness review to clear Atlantis for launch was canceled as engineers spent the morning trying to pinpoint the exact location of the leak.