Astronauts from the shuttle Atlantis completed their work on the Hubble Space Telescope today, bringing new functionality to the aging platform.
In a trying 7-hour spacewalk inside the shuttle payload bay, Mission Specialists John Grunsfeld and Andrew Feustel installed new batteries, replaced guidance sensors, and placed new thermal blankets around the telescope's electronics. Then they closed Hubble's compartment hatches and bid a personal farewell. The finished repair work marked the last time, in all likelihood, that anyone will ever touch the orbiting observatory.
"This is a really tremendous adventure that we've been on, a very challenging mission," Grunsfeld said while preparing to reboard the shuttle cabin. "Hubble isnâ''t just a satellite -- it's about humanity's quest for knowledge."
In today's spacewalk, Grunsfeld and Feustel worked in Hubbleâ''s Bay 3 to replace the second of two 460-pound battery modules, according to a statement from NASA. They also replaced one of the telescopeâ''s fine guidance sensors, which are used to provide pointing information and also serve as a scientific instrument for determining the relative position and motion of stars. Working efficiently, the two had time left to complete the final task, fitting the New Outer Blanket Layer to the exterior of the telescope's Bay 5, Bay 8, and Bay 7, which normally face in the direction of Hubbleâ''s orbital travel.
During their four previous spacewalks, the Atlantis crew installed a new camera and light-splitting spectrograph, replaced Hubble's positioning system, repaired two instruments and attached a docking ring so a robotic spacecraft can be sent to remove Hubble from orbit at the end of its operational lifetime, expected now to last as much as a decade more.
NASA said the astronauts will release the telescope back into orbit and begin their journey home tomorrow.
Grunsfeld waxed eloquent when the time came to leave the newly upgraded telescope behind him: "On this mission, we tried some things that some people said were impossibleâ'¿. We've achieved that, and we wish Hubble the very best. It's really a sign of the great country that we live in that we're able to do things like this on a marvelous spaceship, like space shuttle Atlantis. I'm convinced that if we can solve problems, like repairing Hubble, getting into space, doing the servicing we do, traveling 17500 miles per hour around the earth, we can achieve other great things, like solving the energy problems and climate problems, all of the things that are in the middle of NASA's prime and core values. As Drew and I go into the airlock, I want to wish Hubble its own set of adventures and with the new instruments that we've installed that it may unlock further mysteries of the universe."
Down at NASA's Mission Control in Houston, a flight manager replied simply, "This is a real great day, a great way to finish this out."