Safe Mode Didn't Fix The Hubble Space Telescope So NASA Called Its Geek Squad

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When your device has a problem, what do you do? You take it apart—whether that means digging into layers of software or painstakingly troubleshooting the hardware—and you fix it. For some folks, that's true whether we're talking about a $25 game controller or a multi-million-dollar piece of lab equipment. That kind of repair is extremely problematic when the machine in question is in space, though.

For that reason, NASA's Hubble telescope has all kinds of fail-safes to prevent damage to the hardware, and one such fail-safe apparently activated on October 25th after the telescope failed to receive several synchronization messages. The device isn't damaged, but it can't be used for research until the issue is resolved.

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NGC 2438 planetary nebula formed after the death of a star, and captured by Hubble. Credit: NASA

Fortunately, NASA's already got the ball moving in that regard. Its techs are checking out the control unit hardware that receives the synchronization messages and then communicates them to the rest of the telescope's systems. They're also looking at possible workarounds to prevent this issue in the future.

As part of the troubleshooting, NASA has activated the Near Infrared Camera and Multi Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) that it installed way back in 1997. NICMOS lets the team gather more information on the telescope itself, which should help them narrow down the issue causing the lost synchronization messages. The last time the NICMOS was used was in 2010 because its functions were superseded by another device that's currently disabled due to the safe mode.

The next instrument to come online will be the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). NASA says that it will decide on Sunday if it believes the ACS is safe to use; if so, the device will kick on and researchers will once again be able to use the Hubble for science—albeit in a limited fashion, anyway. After that, the team will closely monitor the telescope's systems to make sure it doesn't lose any more sync messages.
Tags:  space, NASA, Hubble