The crew of the space shuttle Discovery on Wednesday flexed the spacecraft’s robot arm, checked their spacesuits and said they were ready for a $350-million service call on the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
Final preparations were underway to retrieve the telescope early this morning and start a four-day series of spacewalks to refurbish and vastly improve it.
NASA astronaut Steve Hawley, who used the shuttle’s robot arm in 1990 to gently lift the telescope into orbit, put the Canadian-built arm through its paces to make sure it was working properly. Hawley will reach out with the 50-foot arm shortly before midnight PST today to pluck the 12-ton observatory from orbit.
Meanwhile, mission commander Ken Bowersox and co-pilot Scott Horowitz fired maneuvering jets to keep the shuttle on course, and the mission’s four spacewalkers checked out their gear.
Astronauts Mark Lee, Steve Smith, Greg Harbaugh and Joe Tanner floated in a jumble of spacesuit parts and toolboxes as they prepared their spacesuits and some of the 300 tools they will use to tinker with the telescope.
The four men are paired into two teams that will work outside on alternate days. The first spacewalk, by Lee and Smith, was scheduled for tonight.