CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Spacewalking astronauts completed
repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope on Monday, leaving it more
powerful than ever and able to peer even deeper into the cosmos -
almost to the brink of creation.
The last humans to lay hands on Hubble outfitted the observatory
with another set of fresh batteries, a new sensor for precise
pointing and protective covers. That equipment, along with other
improvements made over the last five days, should allow the
telescope to provide dazzling views of the universe for another
five to 10 years.
"This is a very important moment in human history," Hubble
senior project scientist David Leckrone said in Houston. "We will
rewrite the textbooks at least one more time."
It was the fifth and final spacewalk for the shuttle Atlantis
crew, and the final visit by astronauts ever to Hubble.
As the spacewalk drew to a close, Hubble's chief mechanic, John
Grunsfeld, accidentally bumped one of the telescope's antennas and
knocked off its cap with his backpack.
"Oh, I feel terrible," he groaned.
Mission Control quickly assured the astronauts the antenna was
Sorry, Mr. Hubble, have a good voyage," Grunsfeld said after
he covered up the tip.
"Consider it a goodbye kiss, John," one of his crewmates said.
The astronauts planned to set Hubble free from the shutte's
cargo bay on Tuesday.
During this emotional last house call, astronauts gave Hubble
two state-of-the-art science instruments and fixed two others.
The $220 million worth of new instruments should allow the
telescope to gaze farther back into time - within 500 million or
600 million years of the first moments of the universe.
Prior to the repairs, Hubble was able to look back to within 800
Hubble program manager Preston Burch acknowledged that the
telescope still has some original parts, but noted "in many ways
it is a brand-new observatory and far, far more capable than the
Hubble of 1990."
Mission Control congratulated the astronauts for successfully
completing "electronic brain surgery" Monday during a spacewalk
that lasted more than seven hours.
In addition to the batteries and the sensor, Grunsfeld and
Andrew Feustel installed steel foil sheets to protect against
radiation and the extreme temperature changes of space.
It was messy work. Pieces of the old insulation broke off and
floated harmlessly away.
"I was hoping to retrieve those for memories," said Grunsfeld,
an astrophysicist who has spent more time working on the orbiting
Hubble than anyone. He's visited Hubble twice before, and plans to
use the telescope once he's back on Earth to study the moon.
As he applied the new insulation with a roller, a voice from
space sang "rollin', rollin', rollin"' to the theme song from the
TV show "Rawhide."
But the total 37 hours of spacewalks were by no means routine.
The astronauts had some trouble removing an old camera and had to
install a refurbished pair of gyroscopes after a brand-new set
refused to go in.
Sunday's spacewalk was particularly exasperating: a stuck bolt
almost prevented astronauts from fixing a burned-out science
instrument. Brute force saved the day.
During the mission, the four spacewalkers, two per team, managed
to fix two science instruments that had broken down years ago and
were never meant to be tinkered with in orbit.
They also replaced a faltering science data-handling device and
installed a docking ring so a robotic craft can latch on and steer
the telescope into the Pacific sometime in the early 2020s.
"We pulled it off," an ecstatic Feustel said after the final
All told, this visit to Hubble cost more than $1 billion.
"We have a saying ... 'Science never sleeps,' and our work is
just beginning,"' said Jon Morse, NASA's director of astrophysics.
"And we can't wait to get out there and use Hubble for its
NASA hopes to crank Hubble back up by summer's end, following
extensive testing of its new parts.
But already scientists have gotten more than they expected out
of Hubble when it was launched in 1990 with a projected lifetime of
Once its blurred vision was corrected in 1993 and NASA's
reputation was restored, the telescope began churning out
breathtaking images: among other things, stars in the throes of
birth and death.
Back at the launch site, NASA maintained its vigil in case
another shuttle needed to rush to the rescue. Atlantis escaped
serious launch damage a week ago, but was susceptible to all the
space junk in Hubble's 350-mile-high orbit. The astronauts will
perform one last survey of their ship after releasing the
NASA took unprecedented steps to have Endeavour on the pad as a
rescue ship, because the Atlantis astronauts have nowhere to seek
shelter if they cannot return to Earth because of shuttle damage.
The space station is in another, unreachable orbit.
The increased risk prompted NASA to cancel the mission five
years ago in the wake of the Columbia accident. It was reinstated
two years later.
With NASA's three remaining space shuttles set for retirement
next year, there will no way for astronauts to return to Hubble.
The new spacecraft under development will be much smaller and less
of a workhorse than the shuttle, and lack a big robot arm for
grabbing the telescope.
Hubble's replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be
launched in 2014 by an unmanned rocket and placed in an orbit
inaccessible to astronauts.
NASA officials said the farewell to Hubble would be bittersweet.
"We all recognize we've gotten almost 20 years of service out
of it. And it will be cranking along there for another five
years," said Burch, the program manager. "Maybe it is time to
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