When you think about people who really have their act together, you probably think about the employees at NASA. Stopping to reflect on all that they are able to accomplish is really mind-boggling. They employ some of the brightest minds and when a problem arises (and they do) then they get to work trying to find a way to fix it. Believe it or not, sometimes the fix is as simple as what we do at home to fix our troubles.
The Hubble Space Telescope has sent back some fantastic images since it has been launched into space. Unfortunately, NASA had to put it into a safe mode on Oct. 5 because of a problem. It was “due to a failed gyro,” or gyroscope. That little device inside the telescope helped it to rotate and lock onto a target.
NASA tried to use a backup gyroscope but when it started up, they had some problems. It seems as if the backup gyro was turned off about 7.5 years ago and hasn’t been operational since. When it was turned on, it spun at “extremely high rotation rates.”
That is when NASA decided to put the Hubble through a ‘running restart’. It required the team to switch from running in ‘high mode’ to running in ‘low mode’ but it still rotated from side to side.
In other words, they switched it off and on.
Of course, the process is one that is much more complex than what we might do to our home computer or smartphone.
NASA described it this way in a press statement:
“In an attempt to correct the erroneously high rates produced by the backup gyro, the Hubble operations team executed a running restart of the gyro on Oct. 16. This procedure turned the gyro off for one second and then restarted it before the wheel spun down.
“On Oct. 18, the Hubble operations team commanded a series of spacecraft maneuvers, or turns, in opposite directions to attempt to clear any blockage that may have caused the float to be off-center and produce the exceedingly high rates.
“During each maneuver, the gyro was switched from high mode to low mode to dislodge any blockage that may have accumulated around the float.”
When they turned it off and on, it started working again.
NASA uses the Hubble Space Telescope to help astronomers from around the world. It was launched into space in 1990 and still is one of the most significant advances we have seen in astronomy since the first telescope was constructed by Galileo.
Hubble sends pictures to Earth from some of the most distant parts of the universe. Those photographs allow scientists to make significant discoveries, including the estimated age of the universe (14 billion years, just in case you were wondering).
NASA employees work hard to maintain Hubble and they panicked when the gyro had problems.
Fortunately, the problem seems to be resolved.
“Hubble going down to one-gyro mode would in particular have hampered our efforts to characterize extrasolar planet atmospheres in the years running up to James Webb,” research scientist Jessie Christiansen at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute said in an interview. “So this is a huge relief!”
Additional testing on the space telescope will take place to make sure that this stressful situation is nothing more than a distant memory.