May 14, 2009

First of five Hubble spacewalks completed

The first of five planned U.S. spacewalks to repair and update the Hubble Space Telescope was completed Thursday with the replacement of a key Hubble camera.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said astronauts John Grunsfeld and Drew Feustel stepped into space at 8:52 a.m. EDT and ended their spacewalk at 4:12 p.m. In addition to other actions, they removed and replaced the telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. That, said NASA, will allow Hubble to capture a wider range of images from ultraviolet to near-infrared wavelengths.

Also during the 7-hour and 20-minute spacewalk they replaced a failed science data processing computer and installed a soft capture mechanism that will allow a remote-controlled spacecraft to capture Hubble for a de-orbit burn at the end of its life.

The astronauts were to install three latch-over-center lock kits, designed to allow faster opening and closing of the telescope's doors, keeping stray light entering the telescope at a minimum. One such system was installed, but the astronauts ran into technical problems with the other two. They will revisit those problems during the third spacewalk.

Spacewalk No. 2 was scheduled to begin at 8:16 a.m. EDT Friday, but it will be preceded by an unscheduled re-inspection of approximately 40 heat shield tiles that might have been damaged during Monday's launch of space shuttle Atlantis.