Volume: 07, Issue: 05 05/13/2009 
Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, beginning the STS-125 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo credit: NASA Television
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Other Articles in This Issue:
Hubble Photographs Commemorate Decommissioning of Super Camera
Soft Ground Puts Spirit in Danger Despite Gain in Daily Energy
NASA's Spitzer Telescope Warms Up To New Career
Chat with Former Astronaut Michael Bloomfield
Planetary Times Summer Hiatus

Final Space Shuttle Mission to Hubble Underway

On Monday, Space shuttle Atlantis launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.

Atlantis' 11-day mission will include five spacewalks to refurbish Hubble with state-of-the-art science instruments designed to improve the telescope's discovery capabilities by up to 70 times while extending its lifetime through at least 2014.

Shortly before liftoff, Commander Scott Altman thanked the teams that helped make the launch possible.

"At last our launch has come along," said Altman. "...Getting to this point has been challenging, but the whole team, everyone, has pulled together to take us into space."

Altman is joined on STS-125 by Pilot Gregory C. Johnson and Mission Specialists Megan McArthur, John Grunsfeld, Mike Massimino, Andrew Feustel and Michael Good. McArthur is serving as the flight engineer and lead for robotic arm operations while the other mission specialists pair up for the hands-on spacewalk work after Hubble is captured and secured in the payload bay.

Orbiting nearly 50,000 feet (9 1/2 statute miles) behind the telescope, Atlantis' crew performed a precisely-targeted thruster firing called the Terminal Initiation, or TI burn, setting the stage for the final phase of the rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope. Atlantis will close the final miles to the telescope during the next orbit of Earth. During that time the shuttle’s rendezvous radar system will begin tracking Hubble by measuring the distance and rate of closure. Capture of Hubble will occur in a little over two hours.

The STS-125 mission is the 126th shuttle flight, the 30th for Atlantis and the second of five planned in 2009. Hubble was delivered to space on April 24, 1990, on the STS-31 mission. STS-125 is referred to as Servicing Mission 4, although it is technically the fifth servicing flight to the telescope.

"Hubble has a long history of providing outstanding science and beautiful pictures," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "If the servicing mission is successful, it will give us a telescope that will continue to astound both scientists and the public for many years to come."

Among Hubble's greatest discoveries is the age of the universe (13.7 billion years); the finding that virtually all major galaxies have black holes at their center; the discovery that the process of planetary formation is relatively common; the first ever organic molecule in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star; and evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating -- caused by an unknown force that makes up approximately 72 percent of the matter-energy content of the universe.

NASA is providing continuous television and Internet coverage of Atlantis' mission. NASA Television features live mission events, daily mission status news conferences and 24-hour commentary. NASA TV is webcast at: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

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