Hubble engineer watches Altantis liftoff

May 11, 2009 7:06:52 PM PDT
A Bay Area astronaut will play a key role in a daring mission now underway to repair the Hubble space telescope. The shuttle Atlantis lifted off Monday morning. It should reach the Hubble on Wednesday.

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Bay Area astronaut Megan McArthur will pull the Hubble from orbit using the shuttle's robotic arm. Hubble will get new cameras, sensors and engines for the thrusters that position the giant telescope. ABC7's Wayne Freedman watched the launch at Moffett Field with one of the men who designed Hubble, more than two decades ago.

At Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale, there are particular days when people stop whatever they're doing to gather and watch television.

"You always have confidence that it's going to go right," says Hubble Chief Engineer Domenick Tenerelli.

And yet, as Atlantis lifted away, Tenerelli breathed a sigh of relief, because this mission builds on a project that has consumed much of his professional life as chief systems engineer of the Hubble space telescope.

"This is the greatest experience one could have because we ended up building the greatest telescope in the history of the planet," said Tenerelli.

In 19 years, Hubble has sent back so many stirring images that they hardly seem real. Hubble has accomplished and seen more than all the telescopes that ever came before it combined.

The Hubble space telescope came together piece by piece at Lockheed Martin in building #157, which remains the largest clean room in the world. And when they say clean, they mean really clean.

"Well if you get dust on the mirror you get scattering of light," said Tenerelli.

So Lockheed spent $30 million just to filter out any dust larger than one-fiftieth the width of a human hair. During construction, engineers wore special suits in an environment almost as clean as the vacuum of space where the Atlantis crew will install a new generation of instruments that practically doubles Hubble's original power.

"Now you will be able to look back almost to when the galaxies first formed," said Tenerelli.

Of all the engineers at Lockheed Martin, Tenerelli has been there the longest -- 50 years. They say there's a lot of him around this place, but his legacy is up in space.

"You want so much for future generations to have an understanding of the universe. We are so special. This planet and life on this planet are so special. And so few people understand how unique we are in the universe," said Tenerelli.

And Hubble has given us that.

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