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STS-31: Opening window to the Universe
The Hubble Space Telescope has become astronomy's crown jewel for knowledge and discovery. The great observatory was placed high above Earth following its launch aboard space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990. The astronauts of STS-31 recount their mission in this post-flight film presentation.

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Atlantis on the pad
Space shuttle Atlantis is delivered to Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39B on August 2 to begin final preparations for blastoff on the STS-115 mission to resume construction of the International Space Station.


Atlantis rollout begins
Just after 1 a.m. local time August 2, the crawler-transporter began the slow move out of the Vehicle Assembly Building carrying space shuttle Atlantis toward the launch pad.


ISS EVA preview
Astronauts Jeff Williams and Thomas Reiter will conduct a U.S.-based spacewalk outside the International Space Station on August 3. To preview the EVA and the tasks to be accomplished during the excursion, station managers held this press conference from Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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STS-34: Galileo launch
The long voyage of exploration to Jupiter and its many moons by the Galileo spacecraft began on October 18, 1989 with launch from Kennedy Space Center aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. The crew of mission STS-34 tell the story of their flight to dispatch the probe -- fitted with an Inertial Upper Stage rocket motor -- during this post-flight presentation film.

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Atlantis on the move
Space shuttle Atlantis is transported to the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building where the ship will be mated to the external fuel tank and twin solid rocket boosters for a late-August liftoff.


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Europe's lunar orbiter to impact the moon Sunday

Posted: September 2, 2006

A European space probe is just hours away from a violent crash into the lunar surface that ground-based scientists hope will help answer debated questions about the Moon's sub-surface.

The exact timing of the impact remains unknown, but European Space Agency officials say their most recent estimates place the event at 0542 GMT (1:42 a.m. EDT) Sunday morning.

The 630-pound SMART-1 craft is wrapping up almost two years in orbit around the Moon. During the mission, the probe was tasked with testing new technologies that officials hope to include on future spacecraft. In addition to its role as a testbed, SMART-1 employed several instruments for science observations.

Because of dwindling propellant reserves, managers decided in favor of an end-of-mission plan for SMART-1 that would give scientists a final opportunity to gather important data about the Moon that cannot be easily replicated by other missions. Otherwise, the probe would have been left to crash uncontrolled into the lunar surface because it is trapped in orbit by the Moon's gravity field.

Other recent spacecraft deliberately crashed into the Moon include NASA's Lunar Prospector in 1999 and Japan's Hiten demonstrator in 1993.

Engineers at SMART-1's control center in Germany have been planning and executing a series of precise maneuvers since June to place the craft on a collision course with the Moon on Sunday.

The thruster firings have left SMART-1 on a near-perfect trajectory, and the projected impact time is less than a minute from predictions released in July.

On Friday, SMART-1 went into an unexpected safe mode, during which most spacecraft and payload operations ceased. ESA says the ground team successfully restored the probe's functions about six hours later.

Last week, analysis of three-dimensional digital images revealed that uneven terrain near the expected crash site could lead to an impact one orbit earlier than planned at around 0038 GMT Sunday (8:38 p.m. EDT Saturday).

SMART-1 is targeting an impact in a region dubbed the Lake of Excellence in the mid-southern latitudes of the Moon's nearside.

The recovery of SMART-1 from the safe mode was crucial to perform last-minute burns of the craft's thrusters on Friday and Saturday to raise the low point of its orbit by just under 2,000 feet.

"While impact may still occur earlier due to uncertainty in terrain elevations, the possibility of this happening has been reduced as much as possible based on the information we now have," said SMART-1 project scientist Bernard Foing.

Scientists want the spacecraft to make its explosive send-off on the later opportunity due to better viewing conditions for an army of astronomers stationed at observatories in Chile, Arizona, Hawaii, and a number of other locales.

Amateur astronomers are also called being called upon to use their telescopes to attempt to see the impact or its aftermath. The most ideal viewing conditions are expected to be in North and South America where the waxing quarter Moon will be high in the sky.

Images from the telescopes could include a cloud of debris excavated by the high speed crash for scientists to analyze to determine the chemical composition and physical properties of the material.

See our earlier story for more details.