Monday, 18 May 2009

Atlantis Astronauts Do the 'Impossible,' Complete Last-Ever Hubble Spacewalk

The last humans to ever touch Hubble in space finished up the telescope's final repairs today. After more than 7 hours, Atlantis astronauts John Grunsfeld and Drew Feustal completed the mission's fifth and final spacewalk. The 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope will never again undergo a servicing mission in space.

"We have been on a challenging mission," Grunsfeld said. "Hubble isn't just a satellite. It's about mankind's quest for knowledge. The only way to find the limits of the possible is to go beyond the impossible. Many people said we could not do this. We

have achieved this and we wish Hubble the very best."

His partner Feustal also had some final words.

"I'm just really proud to have been a part of this," he said, thanking his wife, children, crewmates and NASA colleagues on the ground.

Cmd. Scott Altman congratulated his crew, saying, "The sign of a great crew is that the commander doesn't have a lot to do. I appreciate all of the work we've had together. … It's been a great thrill. I'm very proud of the crew and the whole team." Feustal and Grunsfeld started work this morning an hour early. During the spacewalk, the duo installed a new set of batteries, a Fine Guidance Sensor that helps aim the telescope and protective steel-foil sheets on the telescope's exterior.

As they worked, the crew appeared to be in good spirits.

"Rollin', rollin', rollin," astronaut Mike "Bueno" Good sang, as Grunsfeld used a roller to adhere the steel blanket to the telescope's exterior.

Before the astronauts could re-enter the shuttle, they had to thoroughly clean off the debris from their gloves. Specialists on the ground were concerned that gold foil sticking to Grunsfeld's gloves (from when he removed old insulation) would contaminate the shuttle's interior.

As the astronauts were preparing to re-enter the shuttle, Grunsfeld's backpack bumped into an antenna. Mission Control sent them back to re-adjust the end cap of the antenna to make sure it was working. Once they were sure that antenna was in good shape, the astronauts and specialists on the ground gave their last remarks.

"Hubble's never had it better. It's never been more capable," spacecraft communicator Dan Burbank said. "It's just been a marvel to watch you guys do this."

Thanks to the astronauts repairs, the telescope should be able to photograph the cosmos for another five or more years. NASA expects to launch the more advanced James Webb Space Telescope in 2014. When Hubble retires, this new telescope will pick up from where it left off.

The astronauts will release the Hubble Space Telescope Tuesday and, after additional tests and preparations, are scheduled to return on Friday.
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