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Picture proof: NASA's Hubble is back in business

After a month of remotely making repairs to the observatory, Hubble snaps galaxy pics

October 30, 2008 12:00 PM ET

The Hubble Space Telescope is officially back in business.

After more than a month of remotely trying to get the orbiting observatory back online after a main computer failed, Hubble got back to work this week, sending down images of a pair of gravitationally interacting galaxies. The pictures prove that the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, a key scientific instrument, is working just as it did before the orbiter went offline, according to a NASA statement.

The trouble started late in September when the Hubble computer responsible for sending data back to Earth failed. A NASA team first tried to complete a remote switchover from the failed system to an on-board redundant system on Oct. 15. Tests after that effort first showed that the backup system was working well, but the activation was suspended after NASA scientists discovered two glitches.

Art Whipple, chief of NASA's Hubble systems management office at the Goddard Space Flight Center, said late last week that the problems likely stemmed from the fact that that the backup system had sat idle for 18 years while hurtling around Earth at 17,500 mph. He added that the computer doesn't appear to be damaged.

This was the first Hubble computer malfunction that has required the installation of a replacement system since it first took orbit 18 years ago.

A space shuttle mission, now tentatively scheduled for February or April of next year, will deliver a replacement system to the Hubble. The new system will become the orbiting observatory's new redundant system.

The telescope, which is the length of a large school bus and weighs 24,500 lbs., is the first major optical telescope to be placed in space, NASA said. Scientists program Hubble to capture images of the planets in our own solar system, as well as images of far-off stars and galaxies.

The images of the two galaxies, called Arp 147, that were sent down this week of the two galaxies, were photographed Monday and Tuesday, according to NASA. The galaxies lie in the constellation Cetus, and are more than 400 million light-years away from Earth.

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