“Good luck Mr. Hubble,” was the call from on board Columbia this morning as the newly rejuvenated telescope was released from the grasp of the shuttle’s robotic arm at 4:04 a.m. central time today.
From the flight deck, spacewalker John Grunsfeld expressed the sentiments of the crew – Commander Scott Altman, Pilot Duane Carey and Mission Specialists Nancy Currie, Mike Massimino, Jim Newman and Rick Linnehan – as he said “from the crew of STS-109, we bid Hubble well on its new journey, with its new tools, to explore the universe.”
Grunsfeld, Linnehan, Newman and Massimino completed five spacewalks to service and upgrade the telescope on five consecutive days, beginning early Monday morning. The spacewalks set a new record for a single shuttle mission with a total time of 35 hours 55 minutes, surpassing the previous record of 35 hours 26 minutes held by STS-61, the first Hubble servicing mission. The Hubble has now been serviced four times with a total of18 spacewalks, involving 14 different astronauts, for a total spacewalking time of 129 hours 10 minutes.
Over five days, the spacewalkers, assisted by Currie operating the shuttle’s robotic arm, installed equipment that gave the telescope more power, a new module to dispense that extra power, and a camera able to see twice as much area, with more speed and clarity. They also installed an experimental cooling system that engineers hope will bring back to life the Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer.
At 4:05 a.m., Commander Scott Altman and Pilot Duane Carey fired Columbia’s orbital maneuvering system engines to begin separating themselves from Hubble – leaving the telescope to continue it observations of the universe with more capabilities than ever before.
The crew took time this morning to discuss the progress of their mission with the NBC Weekend Today Show, WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, Minn. and CNN. The crew is scheduled to begin their sleep period at 11:52 a.m. CST and to awaken at 8:52 p.m. to begin their 10th day in space.
The next mission status report will be issued Saturday evening, or as events warrant.
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