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Set for launch


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POSTED: Monday, May 11, 2009

Hawaii-born astronaut Megan McArthur will have her hands full this week as part of the daring shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

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With a forecast of near-perfect weather, the shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:01 a.m. Hawaii time.

McArthur, a flight engineer, was born in Honolulu in 1971 but considers California her home state. She has degrees from UCLA and UC-San Diego.

This is her first trip into space.

Once the shuttle arrives at the telescope, now slated for Wednesday, McArthur is responsible for extending a robot arm from the shuttle and placing the Hubble atop the so-called Flight Support System, a rotating repair bench at the back of the shuttle's payload bay. She will release the Hubble once repairs are complete and its batteries are charged.

The Hubble mission is considered riskier than a trip to the International Space Station because the orbit is higher and the crew must remain in the shuttle for the entire 12 days. The space shuttle Endeavour is standing by at another Kennedy launch pad as a rescue vehicle if needed.

One of the hazards shuttle astronauts face is orbiting debris. NASA and the Air Force can track pieces of space junk down to the size of a baseball, but there are countless other smaller pieces that could still do damage to the shuttle on impact.

That number went up significantly on Feb. 10 when two satellites, Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251, collided. Since then the U.S. Strategic Command has cataloged nearly 1,000 pieces of debris from the smash-up.

McArthur is the fourth astronaut with Hawaii ties.

Hawaii-born Ellison Onizuka died aboard the shuttle Challenger in 1986. The late astronaut Lacy Veach, a 1962 Punahou School graduate, flew on shuttle missions in 1991 and 1992. Former astronaut Ed Lu, who was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy from 1992 to 1995, logged 206 days in space on shuttle missions in 1997 and 2000 and aboard the Soyuz spacecraft and space station in 2003.