Hubble crew credits training but warns of its cost

January 05, 1994|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

The astronauts who polished up NASA's tarnished image last month with a nearly flawless repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope say they owe much of their success to the extraordinary training that went into the high-profile mission.

But in their first news conference since the flight ended Dec. 13, they cautioned yesterday that future shuttle missions won't all get the same kind of support from the space agency's money managers.

The mission commander, Air Force Col. Richard O. Covey, credited "good people, good equipment and good fortune" for his crew's success. "But most important," he said, "was the . . . extraordinary preparation for the planned tasks and the contingencies that might arise -- for the unknown.

"We built into our training the capability of handling a great deal of [unexpected] situations," he said. But NASA "will not always be able to offer to do that. Clearly the NASA budget is not a limitless amount of money."

Not counting the $369 million shuttle launch, NASA spent $251 million on the repair mission. The crew carried with it not just the future of the $1.5 billion telescope but also the space agency's credibility and perhaps the future of such big-ticket space engineering projects as the planned space station.

The seven-member crew was picked earlier and trained longer -- nearly two years -- than any previous shuttle crew, including 400 hours rehearsing in deep water tanks. Their instruments and tools underwent exhaustive testing.

Since its release Dec. 10, Hubble has been undergoing focusing and engineering tests conducted by remote control from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. The work is said to be ahead of schedule with no signs of problems.

Before the end of this month, scientists hope to release Hubble's first pictures to show they have finally canceled out the manufacturing flaw in Hubble's 94-inch primary mirror.

Back on Earth, the repair crew has been following Hubble's progress and getting used to their

newfound celebrity.

Dr. Story Musgrave, 58, whose bald head made him the most easily recognized member of the crew, said people now stop him in public to talk about the mission they watched on television.

"I tried to go out and do my Christmas shopping, and there was an anatomical characteristic people tend to notice," he said. "I had a hard time getting all my shopping done. They were excited [about the mission] because they had lived it vicariously."

Asked to describe what were for him the high and low points of the mission, Dr. Musgrave said: "I was running scared almost all the time. And running scared is not bad. It keeps you thinking, 'How can I avoid problems?' "

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