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Shuttle touches down after Hubble makeover

Columbia landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 4:32 a.m. ET (0932 GMT).
Columbia landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 4:32 a.m. ET (0932 GMT).  

(CNN) -- The crew of the space shuttle Columbia landed early Tuesday, having completed the most arduous series of spacewalks ever in an effort to improve the vision of the premier orbiting observatory.

Columbia astronauts spent almost 36 hours floating in space to work on the Hubble Space Telescope, surpassing the old record for a single mission that was set nine years ago by the first Hubble repair team.

The seven astronauts touched down at 4:32 a.m. ET (0932 GMT) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following 11 days in space.

With a $172-million makeover complete, Hubble possesses a new camera that will boost its imaging capacity tenfold, according to NASA scientists.

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

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It will require more than nine weeks to align fully the Advanced Camera for Surveys, which will study weather patterns on planets in our solar system, search for extra-solar worlds and explore the fringes of the universe.

The telephone booth-sized instrument was installed during one of five spacewalks. On the other outside jaunts, shuttle astronauts performed a variety of technically daunting repairs and upgrades.

The floating repairmen installed a new cryogenic cooler and radiator, both designed to chill an infrared 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.

Astronauts John Grunsfeld and Richard Linnehan successfully performed the mission's most warily anticipated feat, changing out the 12-year-old telescope's power control unit.

The job required powering down and restarting Hubble for the first time since it was deployed from the space shuttle Discovery in 1990.

Hubble sports smaller, more powerful solar wings.
Hubble sports smaller, more powerful solar wings.  

Shuttle spacewalkers also installed more powerful solar panels and replaced an ailing reaction wheel assembly, which is used to help orient the telescope.

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

The flight was the first for Columbia since it underwent a 1.5-year, $70 million overhaul. The oldest shuttle in the fleet performed well after the long hiatus, save for a glitch in its coolant system on the first day in orbit.


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