Space shuttle Atlantis with its crew of seven made a perfect landing at Edwards Air Force Base, in California on Sunday. The space shuttle touched down at 1:39 a.m. CDT after two days of bad weather forced NASA to decide to land the shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base. The touchdown officially ended the successful mission to repair and refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope.
The astronauts on board spent 13-days in orbit, circled the earth 197 and traveled a total distance of 5.3 million miles. Much of the mission was dedicated to refurbishing the Hubble space telescope, that scientists report, is now better than ever and should keep taking pictures of the universe for another five to 10 years. They also outfitted the 19-year-old old observatory new scientific instruments, batteries and pointing devices.
Hubble repairman John Grunsfeld from Chicago said that they have given the telescope five to ten more years of life. The astronauts will be the last humans to view the space telescope from up close and Grunsfeld has earned the distinction of being the last person to touch the 'eye in the sky'.
Commander Scott Altman on landing at the base, said about the rainy weather that delayed landing for two days, that he did not realize that it would be that hard to get back to earth, but they were all thrilled to have the mission completed. He added that it was a testament to the teamwork and cooperation of people across the country.
Scientists are expected to check out all the new systems of the telescope over the whole of summer and the first pictures will be probably released in early September according to NASA. The replacement camera and other new instruments will enable Hubble further extend the range of the telescope and peep deeper into space within 500 million to 600 million years of creation.
Grunfeld and his crewmates have brought Hubble's old wide-field camera with them, which will eventually be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. With the camera, the telescope shot brilliant images of deep space that made ground breaking discoveries.
The Hubble Telescope was launched into space in 1990 and took its name from the famous University of Chicago astronomer Edwin Hubble. Hubble showed that galaxies, other than our Milky Way existed in the universe and that the universe was expanding. Hubble's findings laid the foundation of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.
The Hubble telescope has been a tool, that has made accessible to the public, answers to a lot of questions and also additionally 'never before' images of the beauty of the universe, Grunsfeld said. The telescope has also be instrumental in generating a lot of scientific data and information ranging from the elements of the planets, the age of the solar system and so on and in doing so it has actually become an icon for science and an icon for the answer to fundamental questions, he added.
According to NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, the mission highlighted what the challenges of spaceflight could bring out in human beings. The mission required the absolute best from the shuttle team, the Hubble science and repair teams and the crew, he added.
The results were a tribute to the entire team and the years of preparation he said.
However, the mission had been almost cancelled in 2004, following the Columbia disaster. The public protest had been intense and the mission could be reinstated only after developing a rescue plan and shuttle repair kits. Shuttle Endeavour had also been on standby for a possible rescue mission till last week.
Altman, Grunfeld and other astronauts are scheduled to proceed to their home base in Houston where they will be honoured with a welcome home ceremony on Tuesday at Houston's Ellington Field.