May 13, 2009

Atlantis Connects With Hubble

Space shuttle Atlantis slowly crept up toward the Hubble telescope before finally grabbing the orbiter 350 miles above the Earth at 12:14 p.m. CST Wednesday.

Megan McArthur steered the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm to connect with the massive telescope in the first contact NASA has had with the telescope since 2002.

"Houston, Hubble has arrived on board Atlantis," said Atlantis commander Scott Altman.

The telescope will be lowered into a special cradle, called the Flight Support System, or FSS, in Atlantis' payload bay, where new upgrades will be installed.

Astronauts are expected to make long-overdue upgrades to the telescope through a series of five spacewalks.

NASA said Hubble would be connected to a lazy-Susan-type device during servicing. An umbilical adjacent to the rotating FSS will be remotely connected to provide electrical power from Atlantis to the telescope. Then, Altman will position the shuttle to allow Hubble's solar arrays to gather energy from the sun to fully charge the telescope's batteries.

The Wide Field Camera 2 will be swapped out during the first spacewalk of the mission, which is planned to take place Thursday at 1216 GMT. Replacing it will be the new Wide Field Camera 3, which will equip Hubble to take massive, detailed pictures over a wide array of colors.

The mission will include other upgrades such as the installation of the so-called Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, which will observe the light put out by extremely faint, far-away quasars and see how that light changes as it passes through the intervening gas between distant galaxies.

Hubble has received four upgrades since it was launched by shuttle Discovery in 1990, where it was put into an orbit of 304 nautical miles above the Earth.

NASA and the ESA believe the current mission will allow Hubble to continue operations for at least five years. Meanwhile, its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope is under development.

"Hubble, an old man of 19 years. It still looks in fantastic shape," said veteran astronaut John Grunsfeld upon arrival to the orbiter.


Image Caption: The Hubble Space Telescope is grappled by space shuttle Atlantis' robotic arm. Photo credit: NASA TV


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