By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Hubble Space Telescope is working again, taking stunning cosmic photos after a breakdown a month ago. But NASA offered some bad news Thursday about longer-term repairs for the 18-year-old telescope.
A key computer replacement part needed because of the September breakdown is "not ready to fly," said NASA spokesman Ed Campion.
That means the space shuttle flight to repair and upgrade the telescope won't happen in February as was hoped. The earliest possible time for such a mission would be May.
For the time being, the $10 billion telescope is as good as it was before it shut down a few weeks ago, according to the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. That breakdown scotched the original plan for a shuttle repair mission in October.
After part of the telescope's science computer shut down unexpectedly, NASA twice tried to switch on a back-up unit that had never been turned on, using commands radioed to Hubble from Earth. The first attempt a couple of weeks ago triggered other computer breakdowns. The second attempt was successful.
"It's back to where it was before that box failed," space telescope institute spokesman Ray Villard said Thursday. "Everything's fine."
To prove it, NASA released a glimmering new Hubble photo showing two ring-shaped galaxies after they collided. Villard called the image a "weird interaction" of the two galaxies which are 440 million light-years away. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles.
One of Hubble's cameras still needs time before it can start running again, but it should be working by early next month, Villard said. Two other cameras are back to normal.
Before NASA can move forward with its repair mission next year, engineers need to replace the failed computer part with a back-up unit that's been in storage since 1991. That would give Hubble a needed spare in space. It will need more testing before it proves flight-ready, early examination has shown, Campion said.
So far, the problem isn't serious enough to halt Hubble's upgrade plans, he said.
"We're a long way from declaring anything absolutely failed."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)