Calling the Hubble Space Telescope's extreme makeover a "really tremendous adventure," the Space Shuttle Atlantis crew finished its fifth and final spacewalk May 18 and began preparing for a return trip to Earth. In all likelihood, it was the final trip that will ever be made to Hubble, the telescope that has become a symbol of NASA's achievements in space.
NASA hopes the repairs and upgrades made to Hubble on the mission will keep the telescope operational until 2014, when the space agency plans to launch a replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope.
Astronauts Drew Feustel and John Grunsfeld replaced the second of two battery modules, replaced a fine guidance sensor and gave Hubble a new insulation wrap. "Okay, one last handshake for Mister Hubble from me," said Grunsfeld, who was making his third trip to Hubble. "Hubble isn't just a satellite, it's about humanity's quest for knowledge," he said.
Having taken off from the Kennedy Space Center May 11 and arrived at Hubble May 13, the crew on the four previous spacewalks installed a new wide-field camera, replaced Hubble's six gyroscopes and gave the telescope a new Science Instrument Command and Data Handling Unit, the computer that sends commands to Hubble's scientific instruments and formats scientific data for transmission to Earth.
In addition, the makeover for 19-year-old Hubble included new battery packs, a new power supply circuit board and a Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, an instrument that breaks light into component colors, revealing information about an object emitting light.
"The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible," Grunsfeld said. "On this mission, we tried some things that some people said were impossible. We've achieved that and we wish Hubble the very best."
Atlantis is scheduled to release Hubble back into orbit May 19 and touch down at the Kennedy Space Center May 22.