Page last updated at 17:15 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 18:15 UK

Shuttle reaches Hubble telescope

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Nasa joy as Atlantis meets Hubble

Space shuttle Atlantis has reached the Hubble telescope, orbiting at a height of 560km (350 miles) above the Earth.

The shuttle crew completed a delicate dance of manoeuvres intended to align Atlantis' robotic arm with the telescope during their approach.

The arm was used to get hold of Hubble and draw it into the shuttle's bay.

Contrary to expectations that the telescope might look more dishevelled than on the shuttle's last visit, it appeared to be in good condition.

The observatory has been exposed to extremes of heat and cold as well as to cosmic radiation during its 19 years in low-Earth orbit.

At 1912 BST, Nasa controllers confirmed that Hubble had been safely berthed and secured atop a platform in Atlantis' payload bay.

Five spacewalks beginning on Thursday will upgrade and repair the telescope, which has suffered from recent equipment failures.

As Atlantis made its final approach to Hubble, the shuttle paused at a distance of about 75m, then made an adjustment of 42 degrees to its "yaw", or twist.

HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE
Hubble servicing (Nasa)
Named after the great US astronomer Edwin Hubble
Launched in 1990 into a 600km-high circular orbit
Equipped with a 2.4m primary mirror and five instruments
Length: 15.9m; diameter: 4.2m; Mass: 11,110kg

Though the crew could control Hubble's movements, the team opted to align the shuttle to the telescope, rather than vice versa.

Astronauts were able to get their first close look at Hubble since March 2002.

At a distance of about 10m from the telescope, astronaut Megan McArthur used the 16m-long robotic arm to grasp the telescope's "grapple fixture".

"Houston, Hubble has arrived on board Atlantis," said Atlantis commander Scott Altman as the robotic arm locked with the fixture at 1814 BST.

The telescope was then drawn delicately to a platform in the shuttle's bay.

Looking out of one of Atlantis' windows, mission specialist John Grunsfeld said: "Hubble, an old man of 19 years. It still looks in fantastic shape."

Previously, Nasa officials had prepared members of the press to expect a Hubble that was more "beaten up" than on the last visit by the shuttle.

Astronauts have now completed a photographic survey of Hubble's exterior using cameras on the shuttle's robotic arm. This was intended to check for any degradation in the telescope's thermal protection system and to assess the condition of its solar panels.

The crew has also activated external power (or shuttle power) to the observatory in preparation for the first spacewalk on Thursday.

A series of spacewalks to be undertaken over the next five days will repair and replace a number of experiments on the telescope.

On Tuesday, shuttle astronauts completed a 10-hour-long inspection of the shuttle to look for any damage to Atlantis sustained on launch.

Atlantis appeared to be in good overall shape, but the survey uncovered a 53cm (21in) line of chips on the shuttle's right side.

The shuttle thundered into the sky at 1901 BST (1401 EDT) on Monday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope is now regarded as one of the most important instruments in the history of astronomy. It has made a remarkable contribution to our understanding of the origin and evolution of the Universe.



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