NASA’s Space Shuttle called Atlantis returned to Edwards Air Force Base, California at 8:39 a.m. PDT Sunday. The crew and ship returned safely after finishing the last servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The astronaut team aboard the STS-125 Space Shuttle carried out and completed five successful spacewalks during their flight. This was carried out to improve and extend the life of the telescope.
The mission lasted nearly 13 days over a span of 5.3 million miles. They infused the Hubble with the latest scientific equipments. These are fashioned to improve the devices’ discovery abilities up to 70 times. The latest additions and upgrades will also extend the Hubble’s lifetime till 2014.
The shuttle was commanded by Scott Altman along with Pilot Gregory C. Johnson. It also included Mission Specialists Mike Massimino, Andrew Feustel, Michael Good, Megan McArthur and John Grunsfeld who paired up for spacewalks on the Hubble. The flight engineer and head of robotic arm operations was McArthur.
Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington commented, “This mission highlights what the challenges of spaceflight can bring out in human beings. This mission required the absolute best from the shuttle team, the Hubble science and repair teams, and the crew. The results are a tribute to the entire team and the years of preparation.”
The shuttle could not return to the primary end-of-mission landing site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida due to weather concerns. The Atlantis will be taken across 2,500 miles from California to Florida within the next 7 to 10 days time. The shuttle will be transported on the back of a customized 747 jumbo jet. Once the craft has reached its destination, it will be separated from the plane and start with the processing measures for its next lift-off. This is scheduled for November this year.
“This is not the end of the story but the beginning of another chapter of discovery by Hubble. Hubble will be more powerful than ever, continue to surprise, enlighten, and inspire us all and pave the way for the next generation of observatories,” added Ed Weiler, associate administrator for Science at NASA Headquarters.
The STS-125 mission was the second of five planned for 2009, the 30th for Atlantis and the 126th shuttle flight. The Hubble Telescope made its space debut on April 24, 1990 and was the STS-31 mission. Atlantis was the 53rd shuttle landing to occur at Edwards’ air base.
The telescope has provided scientists with loads of discoveries while it was in orbit. Some of these findings include finding that nearly all major galaxies have black holes at their center, discovering that the process of planetary formation is relatively common and that the determined age of the universe is found to be 13.7 billion years.
It also provided evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating because of an unknown force that makes up approximately 72 percent of the matter-energy content in the universe. The Hubble also detected the first-ever organic molecule in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star.
NASA has now set its sights on the launch of STS-127 which is expected to take place on June 13, 2009. The Endeavour is scheduled to be a 16-day flight and will transport a new station crew member. Its mission is also to finish the construction of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory. Once there, the astronauts would attach a platform to the outer side of the module. This will be useful for scientists to carry out experiments that need exposure to space.