Source: Xinhua

05-12-2009 11:53

Special Report:   Tech Max

WASHINGTON, May 11 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. space shuttle Atlantis lifted off Monday with seven-member crew onboard from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on a mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope for the last time. Before this mission, four other missions have been conducted to fix the orbiting observatory.

Hubble was launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1990. After its first two months of tests, the initial images from Hubble were a blurry disappointment. A slight flaw in the telescope's main mirror -- barely the width of a human hair -- fouled the observatory's vision.

In 1993, NASA sent a shuttle up to Hubble, where astronauts added corrective lenses -- essentially glasses -- to sharpen its vision. The result was crystal clear: 16 years of stunning cosmic photos followed.

Since that first orbital fix, astronauts returned to Hubble three more times -- in 1997, 1999 and 2002. But the 2003 loss of Columbia shook the servicing schedule to its core. At first, NASA stuck by its 2004 decision to leave Hubble to its un-serviced fate. By 2005 the space agency, in response to pressure from the public and scientific community, drew a plan to send a robot -- instead of astronauts -- to perform the service call.

But it was in September 2006, after the robotic option was deemed untenable, that NASA backtracked and officially announced its plan to send astronauts to save Hubble one last time.

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Editor:Yang Jie