The long-awaited final Hubble servicing mission is a month out now, and the crew of seven astronauts who have been in limbo since at least October are finally gearing up to go. The space shuttle Atlantis is set to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 12.
This will be the second Hubble mission for Astronaut Mike Massimino, and he’s been sharing his excitement about the mission via live interviews from NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center and Twitter, a popular social networking site. We took advantage of the chance to ask Massimino some questions.
So the final Hubble servicing mission is finally going to happen. How are you feeling about it?
I’m feeling great. I’m ready, I think my crew’s ready, and looking forward to going into space and seeing Hubble again and seeing the Earth from space.
On Twitter, you “tweeted” a few days ago: “viewing the Earth from space is the most beautiful site, words cannot describe the experience, can’t wait to see that sight again!” And it made me wonder how long you’ve wanted to have that perspective, and whether you dreamed of this sort of thing as a kid?
I dreamt about being an astronaut when I was a little kid. I was 6 years old when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. But the view of the Earth … it is just so awesome to see the Earth from space. There’s no way to really prepare you for it; we can practice our space walks in the neutral buoyancy lab, we can go to simulators, but there’s nothing that can prepare you for what your eyes will actually see when it comes to the beauty of space and the beauty of the Earth. I can’t really describe it with words, but I can describe what my thoughts were. When I really had the chance to look, while I was spacewalking, the first thought that went through my mind was “if you were in Heaven, this is what you would see.” And then the thought that replaced it was “no, no, it’s more beautiful than that. This is what Heaven must look like.”
You performed two spacewalks to service the telescope during the STS-109 mission in 2002. Since then you’ve worked in Mission Control and taught some classes. Why so long between missions?
I flew in 2002, then I was hoping to get reassigned to another shuttle flight at some point, but the Columbia accident occurred. In the three years following Columbia, we didn’t have very many flights. I got assigned soon after STS 121 to the Hubble Space Telescope flight. Then comes that saga. My crew and I were assigned around Halloween, October 2006 … We thought we might be flying about a year and a half later. We were two weeks from launching in October of last year, and then we got delayed because something broke on the telescope. It’s been good for job security I guess. It gives you more time to get ready, and they hang onto you a little bit longer.
Have you noticed any differences between preparing for this mission and preparing for the STS-109 flight?
STS-109 was my first flight. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do not to get in everybody’s way. I was wondering how I would react to space; I was kind of concerned about how I was going to do. This flight here, I’m pretty confident about how I’ll do … and I’m concerned a little bit more about how the team will do. It’s … a little more responsibility. I’m the experienced guy on our spacewalking team now. Actually it’s a little bit more enjoyable because I know what I’m going to do and I’m looking forward to it.
You’re on Twitter! Why?
I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be an astronaut. I think I’m extremely lucky. We get to do so many wonderful things; one of my interests has been to try to share that with people the best I can. It seemed like this Twitter idea was a great way to share our experiences with other people. One of the great things about Twitter it doesn’t really take that long. You have 140 characters … I checked this weekend and we were up to 35,000 people–
You’re up to 40,000 now
… I figure if there are that many people listening, that’s a pretty good deal. You get responses to it. It’s just wonderful to hear the excitement and all the good wishes from people around the world.
The May servicing mission will be the fourth and final trip to the Hubble Space Telescope. Over the course of five spacewalks, astronauts will install two new instruments, repair two inactive instruments and replace parts that will keep the telescope functioning at least into 2014.
Check out Mike Massimino’s Twitter profile here, where he’ll continue tweeting about mission preparations. More information about the servicing mission is here, and more information about the Atlantis crew is here.