After 33 hours of spacewalking, astronauts completed their tuneup of the Hubble Space Telescope, along with some last-minute repairs to its sun-blistered skin Tuesday.
All that remained was Hubble’s release from space shuttle Discovery early today for three more years of uninterrupted viewing of the cosmos.
“Externally, I have to say it’s not quite as beautiful as we left it three years ago,” Mission Control’s Jeffrey Hoffman told the crew of Discovery. “But we all know that beauty is only skin deep and the real guts of the Hubble are even better now because of the great work that you guys have done.”
Astronauts Mark 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.
The pilots raised Hubble into a higher orbit to offset the telescope’s natural decline in altitude until the astronauts’ next visit in late 1999. Hubble’s new orbit is 375 miles to 385 miles high, almost 10 miles higher than before.
It will be two to three months before the National Aeronautics and Space Administration knows whether the two new science instruments on the $2-billion telescope are working.
Lee, Smith, Gregory Harbaugh and Joe Tanner installed 11 major Hubble components, valued at nearly $300 million, during four consecutive nights of spacewalking.