Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Live In Orbit: Hubble Secured In Shuttle Atlantis

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is securely mounted in the payload bay of shuttle Atlantis, clearing the way for a survey aimed at seeing how well the observatory fared during the last seven years in orbit.

Looming four stories tall, the 12.5-ton Hubble is latched down on a high-tech work platform that operates like a "lazy Susan," rotating the telescope so spacewalking astronauts can access different instrument bays on the cylindrical observatory.

It also provides serves as an electrical link that enables the telescope to draw power from the orbiter Atlantis rather than its own rigid solar wings.

Atlantis mission specialist Megan McArthur used the shuttle's robotic arm to grapple a pin-like fixture on the side of the observatory -- an orbital grab that took place at 1:14 a.m. as Atlantis and Hubble flew 350 miles over western Australia.

McArthur now is employing cameras on the arm to inspect the external hull of Hubble -- a survey aimed at documenting the condition of the craft. NASA last visited Hubble in March 2002 and engineers want to document an micrometeorite or space debris hits as well as any degradation of its solar wings or thermal insulation.

On previous visits astronauts have discovered dings from space debris and degraded thermal blankets as well as damage to solar wings.

Today's high-flying rendezvous and capture of Hubble sets the stage for five consecutive days of spacewalking work on the observatory.

Atlantis lead spacewalker John Grunsfeld, who is making his third trip to Hubble, will work with mission specialist Andrew "Drew" Feustel on the first, third and fifth spacewalks on Thursday, Saturday and next Monday.

Veteran spacewalker Mike Massimino will work with mission specialist Mike Good on the second and fourth spacewalks on Friday and Sunday.

The astronauts aim to install two new state-of-the-art science instruments on Hubble -- the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. They also will attempt unprecedented repairs on two other instruments -- the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Advanced Camera for Surveys.

The spacewalkers also will equip Hubble with six new nickle-hydrogen batteries, six gyroscopes, new thermal blankets and a fixture that will enable a robotic craft ultimately to link up with Hubble and guide it into a watery grave in the Pacific Ocean.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge and save the NASA TV screen grabs that show the Hubble Space Telescope after it was snared by mission specialist Megan McArthur with the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm.

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