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Makeover complete: Hubble back in space

Hubble floats out of Columbia's cargo bay
Hubble floats out of Columbia's cargo bay  

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- With its $172 million makeover complete, the Hubble Space Telescope is flying free again.

After five spacewalks to upgrade it, the space shuttle Columbia's crew released Hubble at 5:04 a.m. EST on Saturday and fired the shuttle's booster jets to move away from the telescope.

"Good luck, Mr. Hubble," said astronaut John Grunsfeld as the gleaming Hubble grew smaller against the dark sky.

The shuttle crew then began maneuvering the orbiter to drop below the telescope -- some 360 miles up -- and move closer to Earth. Columbia's crew is scheduled to come home early Tuesday with landing set for 4:33 a.m. EST at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

They will spend the next two days packing up the robot arm and other equipment used in the Hubble upgrade.

Deeper, clearer view of cosmos

CNN's Miles O'Brien reviews a week of repair by Hubble Space Telescope astronauts (March 8)

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During Friday's fifth and final spacewalk, Hubble got a specially designed new cryogenic cooler and a radiator, both designed chill a highly sophisticated camera that needs extremely cold temperatures to function (-334 degrees Fahrenheit, -203 degrees Celsius).

The camera, called the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer, or NICMOS, has been dormant since 1999 because of a small leak in the original cooling mechanism.

Technicians say it will take roughly a month for the new cooling system to get NICMOS down to its optimum working temperature. First images testing the re-cooled camera's effectiveness should be available around early May.

In a seven-hour spacewalk on Thursday, astronauts Jim Newman and Mike Massimino installed a new $76 million camera on Hubble. Called the Advanced Camera for Surveys, or ACS, the camera is expected to greatly improve Hubble's ability to create images of the cosmos.

"What the crew did was put the turbocharger on this telescope," said Garth Illingworth, deputy principal investigator for ACS at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "The Advanced Camera is going to add 10 times the capability to Hubble."

It will take more than nine weeks to fully align the new camera, which is about the size of a telephone booth. It replaces the Faint Object Camera, the last of Hubble's original instruments. The ACS should become what NASA describes as the workhorse for Hubble. It will search for extra-solar planets, scour regions deep in space and "start exploring in more detail the fringes of the dark ages in the universe," said Illingworth.

More power, new wings

Hubble gleamed and grew smaller as the shuttle moved away
Hubble gleamed and grew smaller as the shuttle moved away  

On Wednesday, Grunsfeld and Richard Linnehan successfully performed the mission's most sensitive and warily anticipated feat, changing out the 12-year-old telescope's power control unit, or PCU. The protocol required powering down and restarting Hubble for the first time since it was deployed from space shuttle Discovery on April 25, 1990.

On Tuesday, Newman and Massimino added a second solar wing to Hubble. Grunsfeld and Linnehan added the first wing on Monday. The new array is smaller, but 20-percent more powerful than the old solar wings. Newman and Massimino also installed a new reaction wheel assembly, a device that helps aim Hubble. One of the four devices had a brief outage in November and engineers were worried it might fail again.

In all, Columbia's crew spent a daunting 35 hours and 55 minutes walking in space to work on Hubble. That breaks the old record for a single mission which was set by the first Hubble repair team.

Hubble is scheduled for one more servicing mission in 2004. The telescope is scheduled to keep working until 2010 when it will be retrieved, returned to Earth and put on display at the Smithsonian.


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