Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Live In Orbit: Crew Snares Hubble Space Telescope

The Atlantis astronauts captured NASA's Hubble Space Telescope some 350 miles above the planet today during a high-flying rendezvous that set the stage for five spacewalks coming up on consecutive days.

With mission commander Scott Altman at the controls, Atlantis eased up within 30 feet of NASA's flagship observatory, bringing the ship close enough for a capture attempt.

Mission specialist Megan McArthur limbered up the shuttle's robot arm and used snares at its end to latch on to a pin-like grapple fixture on the side of the gleaming telescope.

"Houston, Atlantis. Hubble has arrived onboard Atlantis," said Altman.

"Nice job, Megan," astronaut Dan Burbank said from NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston. "It's great to be back with the telescope."

Said Atlantis mission specialist John Grunsfeld: "Everybody is very excited up here, I can tell you."

The orbital retrieval came at 1:14 p.m. as Atlantis and Hubble flew in formation 350 miles above western Australia. The moment came seven years after the last Hubble servicing mission.

McArthur will spend the next hour gently easing the 12.5-ton telescope -- which is the size of a city bus -- toward a work platform in the aft end of the shuttle's 60-foot-long cargo bay.

The four-story telescope should be securely berthed in the payload bay about 1:41 p.m.

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