The space shuttle Atlantis crew on Thursday prepared to embark on the first of five spacewalks during its 11-day mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
After a two-day chase, the shuttle Wednesday captured the telescope with its robotic arm 350 miles above Earth and pulled it into Atlantis’ cargo bay for service. The telescope has been latched to a rotating, lazy Susan-type device for five days of repairs and remodeling. An umbilical line has been connected to provide electricity from Atlantis to the telescope, according to NASA. Mission commander Scott Altman also will position the shuttle to allow Hubble’s solar arrays to gather energy from the sun and recharge the telescope’s batteries. Watch Atlantis snag the Hubble » Thursday’s spacewalk will begin at 8:16 a.m. ET and is expected to last more than six hours. Astronauts plan to replace a wide-field planetary camera with an updated model and will “install a mechanism for a [future] spacecraft to capture Hubble for de-orbit at the end of its life.” Learn more about the Hubble repairs » Atlantis launched Monday for NASA’s fifth and final repair visit to the telescope. It has been seven years since NASA’s last mission to service the Hubble, which was designed to go about three years between fixes. Watch Atlantis lift off on Hubble mission » NASA canceled an Atlantis mission to extend Hubble’s operational life in January 2004 because the trip was considered too risky in the wake of the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster, which killed seven astronauts.
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That accident was blamed on a hole punched in the front of the wing by debris during liftoff. But public pressure and steps taken to increase shuttle safety led the space agency to reconsider. A survey of Atlantis’ outer body after launch revealed that four tiles on the right side have “some dings” in them, flight director Tony Ceccacci said earlier this week. Watch “dings” mar shuttle tiles » “To me, I’m not the tile expert, but they looked very minor,” Ceccacci said.
He said tile experts will examine the dings, which are on the wing. Watch debris fall during launch » Space shuttle Endeavour is on standby in the unlikely event that NASA would need to rescue the Atlantis crew members during their 11-day mission.