JSC's vacuum chamber prepares for big telescope

Vacuum chamber weighs 40 tons, door alone is 40 feet across

By Ryan Korsgard - Reporter

HOUSTON - The next big space telescope is coming to NASA's Johnson Space Center for testing soon. But first, the workers at JSC are preparing the center's giant "vacuum chamber" for the big visitor.

The chamber is huge. The door alone is 40 feet across. It weighs 40 tons. It's held together by the biggest hinge in the world.

Its work has included testing for Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle and International Space Station programs. The chamber is a big freezer capable of simulating the cold, dark, environment of space. It can cool off to temperatures of -440 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It will be the largest, coldest place on earth, even in August in Houston," said NASA manager Mary Cerimele.

Cerimele said the new space telescope must be ready for the harsh environment of space. The telescope will be a million miles from earth. That is four times the distance from the earth to the moon.

"We're not going to go there and service it. We're not going to go and repair it. It's gotta work, when it leaves the earth, when it gets up there," said Cerimele. "We have to do lots of ground testing to insure that."

NASA hopes it will see more than Hubble ever has. But first, it faced tests inside a really dark, cold vault.

"We really expect to not understand what we see, so that's kind of the surprise," said Jonathan Homan, a mechanical engineer at NASA. "We want a surprise to find out stuff that doesn't fit in today's science."

Click to learn more about NASA's vacuum chamber.

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