By Garrett Pekar and Evangeline Ciupek
Planets, star nurseries and black holes shone intensely on the wall of York Science Center’s Brindley Auditorium. These pictures, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, have aided scientists in their quest to learn more about the universe.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Representative, Dr. Clay Fulcher, gave a speech sponsored by the College of Humanities on “NASA: Training Astronauts and Servicing the Hubble Telescope.”
The Hubble takes better pictures than any earth-based telescope because there is no atmosphere obstructing the view.
“Basically, it’s the greatest investigative machine that’s been invented by man, as far as learning more about outer space, and where the universe came from and where it’s going,” Fulcher said.
Black holes cannot be captured in a photo, but the Hubble has helped to uncover their se-crets. When a star suddenly disappears from the telescope’s image, it is swallowed by a black hole. That is how scientists know where black holes exist.
“The Hubble (has) really opened the door to dark energy, dark matter and black holes. And this picture is actually a black hole,” Fulcher explained. “You can tell where it is because it’ll be sucking in stars.”
In the past 19 years, the Hubble has been serviced four times. In these missions, astronauts completed tasks including replacing batteries and changing solar panels.
“It was designed to last three to five years. It was launched in 1990, so it has far exceeded its lifetime,” Fulcher said.
The next servicing mission will be May 12. The fifth mission holds a seven-member crew—six men and one woman. They will replace the original solar panels, among other things.
The crew trains in a giant swimming pool at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“It took a month to fill up this pool,” Fulcher said.
Under the water, astronauts practice performing their mission on full-sized mock-ups of the telescope and space shuttle.
“(Astronauts) can be rendered mutually buoyant …. That’s the closest approximation to being in zero-gravity space that you get,” Fulcher said.
When the astronauts are ready for the real deal, all of the needed materials are packed into the space shuttle in a gigantic vertical assembly building. An equally enormous moving platform, called a crawler-transporter, moves it out to the launch pad.
Fulcher paused at a 2002 picture of Shuttle Columbia before liftoff. A rainbow reaches down to touch the nose of the vehicle.
“I like to think that God is pleased with man’s inquisitiveness and his interest in learning more about His creations,” he said.
Freshman computer science major, Drew Donahue, liked the pictures in Fulcher’s presentation.
“They made it a lot easier to visualize what he was referring to. The ones of the different galaxies in space were just straight up gorgeous, and I enjoyed looking at them,” he said.
Freshman history major, Betty Leutrell, found the speech interesting as well.
“I really liked the presentation because the pictures were so amazing. The pool training looked very cool,” Leutrell said.
Biblical studies major, Britt-ney Montgomery, attended the lecture.
“I don’t know that I would have come if I wouldn’t have gotten extra credit for it, but I’m glad I came,” she said.
Also in attendance at the lecture was Clay Fulcher’s wife of 54 years, Ann.
“He still coordinates all of the diving schedules and the coordination between Goddard and Johnson Space Centers,” she said.
Dr. Fulcher talked about NASA’s efforts to keep the Hubble in space.
“They’re really working hard to figure out how to extend its life,” he said.
If they don’t, Russia could lead space exploration again.
“Right now there’s a gap,” Fulcher said. “(Former) President Bush said they would stop using the shuttle after 2010. And the replacement shuttle is not going to be ready in 2010. That would put us basically dependent upon the Russians … and I think if you’re not leading in space, you’re not going to be a world leader anymore.”