Thursday, May 14, 2009

Live In Orbit: Crew Removes Workhorse Camera

Spacewalking astronauts finally broke torque on a balky bolt and now have removed a workhorse planetary camera from the Hubble Space Telescope so it can be replaced by a new-generation instrument.

Anchored to the end of shuttle Atlantis' 50-foot robot arm, Atlantis mission specialist Drew Feustel used brute strength to unscrew a stuck bolt on a grounding strap attached to the camera, clearing the way for the instrument to be removed from its telescope bay.

Breaking torque on the bolt was critical. Had Feustel's attempt failed, NASA would have been forced to leave the old camera in Hubble and bring a $126 million replacement back to Earth.

"It's been in there for 16 years, Drew, and it didn't want to come out," spacewalking partner John Grunsfeld said.

Robot arm operator Megan McArthur then gently eased Feustel and the planetary camera back away from the telescope.

Sized and shaped like a baby grand piano, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 snapped 135,000 images -- including the majority of Hubble's most iconic images -- since it was installed in December 1993.

The old camera saved the $10 billion Hubble project by correcting the debilitating flaw discovered in its 94.5-inch primary mirror two months after the observatory's April 1990 launch.

The astronauts temporarily stowed the camera in the shuttle's cargo bay. Now they are unpacking its replacement -- Wide Field Camera 3 -- which will be installed in the bay where its predecessor had been housed.

You can watch the action unfold right here in The Flame Trench. Simply click the Live Shuttle Broadcast box on the righthand side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage.

Be sure to refresh this page, too, for periodic updates.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge and save the NASA TV screen grabs.

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