Astronauts set the Hubble Space Telescope free early today with powerful new eyes, improved electronics and extra insulation to withstand the sun’s harsh punishment.
Shimmering in the sunlight, Hubble slowly drifted away from space shuttle Discovery for three more years of uninterrupted viewing of the cosmos. The crew released the telescope with the shuttle crane as the spacecraft sped in sight of Africa.
The astronauts completed their tuneup of Hubble along with some last-minute repairs to its sun-blistered skin Tuesday after 33 weary hours of spacewalking.
“For me and for NASA, it’s just like going and winning the Super Bowl,” said spacewalker Mark Lee.
Astronauts Lee and Steven Smith ended the fifth and final spacewalk of the $795 million servicing mission with repairs to Hubble’s peeling thermal insulation, the result of seven years of sun exposure.
For a while, it seemed as though the crew might have to take an unprecedented sixth spacewalk.
A wheel that is part of the telescope guidance system did not appear to be spinning properly. It turned out that the wheel was in fine shape and no repair was needed.