Astronauts finish repairs on Hubble space telescope

May 18, 2009 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
In this image from NASA TV astronauts John Grunsfeld, left, and Andrew Feustel work to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope during a spacewalk, Monday, May 18, 2009. This is the fifth and final repair mission for the 19-year-old telescope. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

(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.

"Hubble is returned to flagship status, and it now has a full arsenal of instruments," said Jon Morse, NASA's director of astrophysics.

It was the fifth and final for the shuttle 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 fine.

"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 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 million years.

"This is a very important moment in human history," said Hubble senior project scientist David Leckrone. "We will rewrite the textbooks at least one more time."

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 . 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.

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 Morse, the astrophysics director. "And we can't wait to get out there and use Hubble for its intended purposes."

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 15 years.

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 telescope.

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 .

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 move on."

---

On the Net:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission-pages/hubble/main/index.html

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Astronauts grab Hubble, prepare for tough repairs

May 13, 2009

(AP) -- Atlantis' astronauts grabbed the Hubble Space Telescope on Wednesday, then quickly set their sights on the difficult, dangerous and unprecedented spacewalking repairs they will attempt over the next ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

16 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

16 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

17 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Nikola
5 / 5 (1) May 18, 2009
Praise Science!
omatumr
1 / 5 (3) May 18, 2009
CONGRATULATIONS!

This is another of NASA's great engineering feats!

Unfortunately NASA's science has been crippled by unrealistic models and blind dogma, at least since the Apollo Mission collected the first lunar samples for analysis in 1969.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://www.omatumr.com

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...