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Shuttle grabs Hubble telescope for repairs

(CNN) -- The space shuttle Columbia grabbed the Hubble Space Telescope early Sunday to begin a multimillion-dollar repair job.

Nearly 48 hours after the space shuttle launch, astronaut Nancy Currie maneuvered an arm extending from Columbia while the shuttle hovered about 35 feet away from the telescope.

The 50-foot arm was to place the telescope on a turntable near the back of the space shuttle, where it will remain for the next six days of upgrades.

Columbia is carrying $172 million in new equipment for Hubble, including solar wings, a power-control unit, a steering mechanism, a more advanced camera and a system to restart a disabled infrared camera.

Capture of the space telescope Hubble, makes a successful day for astronauts aboard the shuttle Columbia. CNN's Miles O'Brien reports (March 3)

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NASA managers kept the shuttle up on Saturday, despite a brief scare that the mission might have to be scuttled because of a blockage in one of the spacecraft's two cooling systems that was noticed shortly after the shuttle's takeoff Friday.

The seven members of Columbia's crew will maneuver the telescope on the turntable before they take a series of five spacewalks to make the repairs. Crew members John Grunsfeld and Rick Linnehan are to start the first spacewalk at 1:27 a.m. EST Monday.

NASA scientists are nervous about repairing the power-control unit because the power to the space telescope must be shut off and turned back on -- a sequence never before performed on the telescope.

Hubble already has given scientists an impressive view of the universe since it was launched in 1990. The orbiting observatory has watched a comet break up near the sun, spied the ruins of a stellar explosion 10 billion light years away and investigated the cosmos' rate of expansion.

Improvements include installation of the Advanced Camera for Surveys -- a multiple-camera instrument that promises a tenfold increase in the imaging ability of the bus-sized observatory.

Using other new instruments, such as a filter that blocks bright light, the observatory should improve its studies of black holes in the far reaches of the universe.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a joint venture of NASA and the European Space Agency. Because of an initial structural defect, it suffered a serious case of blurred vision until visiting shuttle astronauts made repairs in 1993.

CNN's Miles O'Brien contributed to this report


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