HOUSTON - Atlantis astronauts began conserving power aboard their shuttle in case bad weather prevents their planned landing on Friday and hailed their successful repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Mission Control asked the shuttle crew to power down non-essential systems Wednesday in case stormy weather in Florida thwarts their landing attempts at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The shuttle can also try and land Saturday or Sunday in Florida or at a backup runway in California.
Atlantis commander Scott Altman and his crew had a well-earned day off Wednesday and wore broad smiles as they recounted their mission to overhaul the 19-year-old Hubble with reporters on Earth and the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. They were expecting a private call from U.S. President Barack Obama later today.
?It?s amazing looking back at how hard things a couple of times, that were more difficult than I ever expected,? Altman said. ?I think we were very successful.?
The seven astronauts aboard Atlantis faced down stuck bolts and stubborn gyroscopes during five challenging spacewalks to repair Hubble?s two dead instruments and add two brand new ones and other gear to extend the iconic observatory?s life by another five or 10 years. They are the last humans ever to touch or see Hubble up close.
?We did it, but I?m still impressed that we did it,? said astronaut Andrew Feustel, who performed three of the five spacewalks.
The three astronauts aboard the International Space Station commended the Atlantis crew for their successful Hubble repair, even if they admitted some professional jealousy.
?We all kind of envy you the chance to touch Hubble a final time,? station astronaut Michael Barratt of NASA said.
For Atlantis spacewalker Michael Massimino, one of the highest points was almost one of the lowest. During a delicate repair to Hubble?s broken Space Telescope Imaging Spectrometer, a bolt holding a handrail in place stuck fast and blocked his way. After more than an hour of delay, he finally just ripped the handrail off Hubble - with the approval of Mission Control, of course.
?Ripping that thing out of there was quite an experience, and I?m glad it led to a successful repair,? said Massimino, adding that he drew inspiration from his uncle Frank, who once ripped an oil filter out a car using farm tools. ?That was pretty close to what was going on with Hubble.?
None of Atlantis? crew left a sign or personal note on Hubble before sending it on its way, but Massimino?s handrail action will live on history, Barratt said.
?The magic Massimino touch is now legendary, and we?re looking forward to seeing you guys back on the ground,? he added.
Atlantis is due to land at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Friday at 10:01 a.m. EDT (1401 GMT).
SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of NASA's last mission to the Hubble Space Telescope with senior editor Tariq Malik in Houston and reporter Clara Moskowitz in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
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