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Astronaut wrote family members letters from the grave before each flight

An astronaut who flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia before its last fatal flight admitted he wrote his family members letters from the grave before every mission. 

Former NASA astronaut Steven Smith, 61, from Phoenix, Arizona, was sent on Columbia to fix a camera on the Hubble Telescope,  just a year before the aircraft disintegrated as it re-entered the atmosphere, killing all seven of its crew members.

Appearing on BBC2 documentary ‘Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed’, he told how before every mission he would write to his wife insisting work on the Telescope should continue, and saying ‘the gains’ of the project would always outweigh the risks.   

Former NASA astronaut Steven Smith, 61, from Phoenix, Arizona, (pictured) was sent to fix a camera on the Hubble Telescope on the Columbia, just a year before it’s last fatal flight. He is pictured before The Hubble repair mission in 1999 

Steven admitted he wrote his family members letters from the grave before every mission. He is pictured giving a thumbs up before entering the spacecraft The Hubble repair mission in 1999

Steven admitted he wrote his family members letters from the grave before every mission. He is pictured giving a thumbs up before entering the spacecraft The Hubble repair mission in 1999

‘We all know that it’s an incredibly dangerous business,’ said Steve, ‘When it happens though, it’s just devastating, absolutely devastating.

‘Even though we all know what the risks are and we know what good comes out of it, on days like that – it really takes time to pause and think about it’. 

He went on to explain that while the effects of a fatal disaster can be devastating, he and many others are ‘totally in favour’ of continuing their work for NASA. 

‘Explorers always know the programme should continue, I for example every flight wrote my family members – each one of them – a letter. 

He apepared on BBC2 documentary 'Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed'. Pictured, Hubble Space Telescope in orbit around Earth

He apepared on BBC2 documentary ‘Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed’. Pictured, Hubble Space Telescope in orbit around Earth

The film explores the stoey of the Hubble Telescope. pictured, The Pillars of Creation taken during observation by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014

The film explores the stoey of the Hubble Telescope. pictured, The Pillars of Creation taken during observation by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014

‘The ones to my spouse for example would say, “We know what the risks are, we know how great the gains are. 

‘If anyone asks you I’m totally in favour of us continuing that venture, and by the way you should get married again”.’ 

The Hubble’s first servicing mission took place in 1993, when astronauts installed equipment adjusted to correct for the flaw in Hubble’s primary mirror.

In 1997 Hubble’s wavelength range into the near-infrared for imaging and spectroscopy was extended, meaning scientists could probe the most distant reaches of the universe. Smith performed three space walks as a member of this mission. 

NASAs Hubble Space Telescope is still working and has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.

He is arguably most famous for discovering that the universe is expanding and the rate at which is does so – now coined the Hubble constant. 

The Hubble telescope is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889 (pictured)

The Hubble telescope is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889 (pictured)

Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990 and helped publish more than 15,000 scientific papers.

It orbits Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.

Hubble has the pointing accuracy of .007 arc seconds, which is like being able to shine a laser beam focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head on a dime roughly 200 miles (320km) away.

The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time

The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time

Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long – the length of a large school bus.

Hubble’s launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope. 

Thanks to five servicing missions and more than 25 years of operation, our view of the universe and our place within it has never been the same. 

Next, in 1999 a two-part mission began when six of the telescopes gyroscopes failed, where Smith performed two spacewalks as the Payload Commander. 

In 2002 astronauts replaced Hubble’s solar panels and installed the Advanced Camera for Surveys and Smith performed two of the flight’s four spacewalks. 

However, when disaster struck in 2003, the upcoming NASA cancelled the next year’s upcoming mission to Hubble over safety concerns, however  NASA began to thousands of messages a week, as a campaign mounted to save hubble

Dr Jennifer J Wiseman, a Hubble Project Scientist told: ‘I remember going to a school in the midwest, where children had raised funds. 

He told while the effects of a fatal disaster can be devastating, he and many others are 'totally in favour' of continuing their work for NASA. Pictured, inspecting insulation around the Hubble Space Telescope in 1997

He told while the effects of a fatal disaster can be devastating, he and many others are ‘totally in favour’ of continuing their work for NASA. Pictured, inspecting insulation around the Hubble Space Telescope in 1997 

‘When they heard the mission had been cancelled, they wanted to do something to help NASA and of course my heart was struck.’  

It wasn’t until 2009 the programme was reborn with the fifth and final servicing of the orbiting observatory, where two new scientific instruments were installed. 

The improvements, including a device attached to the base of the telescope to help de-orbiting when the telescope is eventually decommissioned, should ensure the telescope’s continued success. 

Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed airs tonight at 9pm on BBC2

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk