WFPC 3 shaking in its boots, awaiting cosmic radiation in the bowels of the Space Environment Simulator.
Yesterday I blogged about seeing the Hubble Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, which, after astronauts replaced it with the WFPC3, came home with the Atlantis shuttle in May. But there's a lot more to the building it's in, which has the predictably unfathomable name "the Integration and Test Facility." Built during the space race, the I&T is a palace of wonders. Our guide, Aleya, works on education and public outreach for the Solar Dynamics Observatory. She's used to taking legions of kids through the facility, talking about possible careers—NASA employs seamstresses as well as rocket scientists—and filling them with facts about the facility's impressive array of, well, tools, for lack of a better word. Take the Space Envinronment Simulator:
Goddard's Space Environment Simulator.
Its crown scrapes the 30-foot ceiling of the I&T facility; there's another 30 feet of it underground, 10 feet of chamber and twenty feet of foundation capable of supporting 4,000 pounds. Scientists gingerly lower space-destined equipment, such as a new satellite, into the UFO-like structure. Then they close the door and, or so I'd assume, press the big red button labeled "SPACE," which turns on the high vacuum, chilly (-310 F°) or blazing (340°) temperatures, and even cosmic radiation, high-energy protons, neutrons, and nuclei.
Looking into the centrifuge.
Just beyond these massive doors lies the centrifuge. The 120-foot-long rotating arm can spin up at up to 33 RPM and generate up to 30 Gs of acceleration. Aleya jokes that it's Goddard's biggest storage closet; at the moment the floor is cluttered with mysterious equipment, but just a few months ago the new Hubble camera, the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 3, was put through its paces here. But this is not a training ground for astronauts; 30 Gs is far beyond what the human body can withstand.
"It takes about a gigavolt to start it up," Aleya says. Thats a thousand million volts. Phew. Wonder if the neighbors notice.