Three experienced Hubble Space Telescope fliers are on shuttle Atlantis' seven-person crew.
One of them — lead spacewalker John Grunsfeld — is making an unprecedented third visit to Hubble. Another, Michael Massimino, is sharing the adventure through Twitter, a first for an on-the-job astronaut.
A brief look at the six men and one woman who will carry out NASA's fifth and final service mission to Hubble:
Commander Scott Altman led the last team of astronauts to visit Hubble.
In 2002, Altman flew Columbia to Hubble. It was Columbia's last successful mission; the shuttle shattered during re-entry one year later, killing all seven aboard.
Because of the disaster, Altman and his crew will have a much bigger workload this time. Besides working on the telescope, they will need to inspect their spaceship for any damage. If their ship is unsafe, another shuttle will rush up to rescue them.
"The last time I flew to Hubble, we didn't have any of that whole thing," he said. "I guess maybe I shouldn't have been so comfortable flying to Hubble last time as I was. But we're all hopefully a little bit smarter about the risk involved now."
Altman, 49, a retired Navy captain from Pekin, Ill., did some of the actual F-14 flying in the 1986 movie "Top Gun." This will be his fourth spaceflight since becoming an astronaut in 1995.
His wife, Jill, is his "support engineer." She's been a stay-at-home mother to their three sons, ages 16, 21 and 29.
Johnson, 54, still recalls being at the Seattle airport in April 1981, waiting to fly to Hawaii for his first aircraft carrier deployment. Columbia was landing following the first-ever space shuttle mission. "That was my first, 'Well, I can be an astronaut,' " he said.
Johnson joined NASA in 1990 as an engineer and research pilot, and became an astronaut eight years later. This will be his first spaceflight.
He's logged more than 9,000 flying hours in 50 types of aircraft. He's come close to ejecting three times, so flying the space shuttle doesn't faze him. Besides, he said, "it's not productive to worry and I'm not a worrying type anyway."
His oldest, 31, a Navy F-18 pilot, is in test pilot school — "just like I did, 25 years later." He also has a 28-year-old son and, with wife Nanette, three younger stepchildren.
"My dad is probably the one who's most apprehensive," Johnson said. The 82-year-old had always hoped for a nice, quiet career at Boeing for his son. He'll be at the launch.
Lead spacewalker John Grunsfeld takes pride in having turned 50 the same month and year as NASA, October 2008. In fact, he calls himself "a NASA baby." He's also a Hubble hugger; this will be his third visit to the orbiting telescope, more than anyone else.
Grunsfeld, an astrophysicist from Highland Park, Ill., shares the same alma mater as Edwin Hubble, the astronomer for whom the telescope is named. Both earned doctorates from the University of Chicago.
"I spent my life studying science, doing astrophysics, building instruments to go to space, eventually decided that that wasn't enough. I wanted to go to space," he said. "And so there's no better privilege ... than to be able to go and service the Hubble. I do feel like I've trained my whole life for this mission."
NASA chose Grunsfeld as an astronaut in 1992. This will be his fifth spaceflight.
Besides flying and stargazing, Grunsfeld climbs mountains. He's ascended Denali, North America's highest peak.
"I'm attempting the Everest of spaceflights right now, and what I do afterward, we'll have to figure out," said Grunsfeld, who will perform three spacewalks at Hubble.
He and wife, Carol, have a 12-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy.
Michael Massimino, whose grandparents and in-laws immigrated from Sicily, is taking up a replica of the telescope that Galileo used 400 years ago to gaze at the heavens.
He got it from the science museum in Florence, Italy, that houses Galileo's instruments, with help from Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli. The museum cut the yardlong telescope in half so it would fit more easily aboard shuttle Atlantis. Massimino will screw the pieces together in space, like a clarinet, and point the telescope out the window.
"Going to eat a little Italian food in space while I'm looking through the guy's telescope is the plan. Yeah, lasagna and biscotti on that day," he said with a laugh.
Massimino will carry out two spacewalks at Hubble. He's also been using Twitter for the past month to share his adventure with the public; his user name is Astro_Mike.
Massimino, 46, an engineer from Franklin Square, N.Y., worked on Hubble in 2002. He's been an astronaut since 1996. This is his second spaceflight.
He and wife, Carola, have a teenage daughter and son.
Megan McArthur's wedding ring beat her into space.
Her then-fiance, astronaut Robert Behnken, carried both of their wedding rings into orbit with him just over a year ago. They are a rarity; there have been only nine married astronaut couples ever at NASA.
McArthur, 37, believed to be a distant cousin of Gen. Douglas McArthur, will be Atlantis' chief robot arm operator. She will use it to grab onto the Hubble Space Telescope and also, with an attached boom, inspect the shuttle's exterior for any signs of damage.
She was introduced to the world of aviation and space by her father, a Naval aviator who ended up being stationed at Moffett Field in Mountain View, Calif., next door to NASA's Ames Research Center. She grew up there and watched as astronauts flew in, thinking, "Well, that looks like a pretty neat job."
McArthur became a scuba diver and oceanographer. She was encouraged to apply to NASA by one of the first female astronauts, Kathryn Sullivan, also an oceanographer. McArthur got into the astronaut corps on her first try, in 2000. This will be her first spaceflight.
Air Force Col. Michael Good is admittedly antsy about this mission. Any sane person would be, he notes.
"Just to be honest, I think you have to be a little nervous about it," said the former military weapons officer. "You want to be successful. We want to have a successful mission, and we want to come home safe and sound."
Good, 46, who's from Broadview Heights, Ohio, became an astronaut in 2000.
"I was pretty lucky to be on this mission, especially as a first-time flier, and to get to go outside and do a couple spacewalks. It sounds corny, but it really is a dream come true," he said.
He and wife, Joan, have discussed the mission with their two sons, 23 and 19, and 11-year-old daughter, and stressed the importance of exploration.
"They know I've been waiting to do this for a while," said Good, who also has a grandson. "They know that it's risky. They know what can happen. ... I know they're looking forward to me coming home."
Andrew Feustel has always liked to go fast: He's raced motorcycles, bicycles and go-carts. Now he's about to get the ultimate speed high, going from zero to 17,500 mph in just over eight minutes.
Feustel, 43, a seismologist and geophysicist who's worked in underground mines and for Exxon, will perform three of the five spacewalks planned for the Hubble Space Telescope. It will be his first space flight since becoming an astronaut in 2000.
He grew up in Lake Orion, Mich., believing that everybody would have access to space when he was older.
"It was just a deep-rooted, subconscious belief that I had, that this was going to be what I was doing, and I was lucky enough that it all came true," he said.
Feustel considers this mission extra special. "To have the chance to work on Hubble is not something that anybody except astronauts get to do (and) it's a unique opportunity within the astronaut office," he noted.
His wife, Indira, is a speech language pathologist and tennis instructor. They have two sons, ages 13 and 15.
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Source: AP Features