May 24, 2009

Atlantis Lands In California After Hubble Repairs

After adverse weather conditions forced two landing delays, the space shuttle Atlantis returned safely to Earth at the Edwards Air Force base in California on Sunday after a 13-day mission to refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope, The Associated Press reported.

Stormy weather prevented Atlantis from touching down at NASA's Florida base, forcing Mission Control to direct commander Scott Altman and his crew of seven to the Mojave Desert for a California landing.

Atlantis was scheduled to land Friday but NASA kept the astronauts circling the world in case thunderstorms from a lingering low-pressure system eased up.

"Congratulations on a very successful mission giving Hubble a new set of eyes," Mission Control radioed after the shuttle touched down.

The mission successfully provided $1 billion in much-needed updates to the 19-year-old Hubble telescope, as astronauts installed a new camera, replaced batteries and made repairs that will hopefully keep Hubble in good working condition for at least another five years.

However, the California landing resulted in NASA losing at least a week of work and close to $2 million in ferry costs. Atlantis ended up circling Earth 197 times and logged 5.3 million miles during its journey.

During five spacewalks, the astronauts brought back the old wide-field camera they pulled out of Hubble, which will soon be displayed as a souvenir for the public viewing at the Smithsonian Institution.

Hubble's newly installed camera and other new instruments will enable the observatory to peer deeper into the universe, to within 500 million to 600 million years of creation.

With NASA expected to retire the space shuttles next year, it will be the last time astronauts will be visiting Hubble.

NASA expects to steer it into the Pacific sometime in the early 2020s.


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