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Astronauts finish final repairs on Hubble

SPACEWALKING astronauts ventured out yesterday to finish repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope, which will never be touched by human hands again.

It was the fifth and final spacewalk for the crew of shuttle Atlantis, and the fifth and final visit by astronauts, ever, to Hubble.

Keen on leaving the 19-year-old observatory in the best possible shape for gazing upon the universe, chief mechanic John Grunsfeld and partner Andrew Feustel got started on the work nearly an hour earlier than planned.

They quickly gave the telescope another fresh set of batteries, leaving plenty of time to put in a new sensor and steel foil sheets for protection against radiation and the extreme temperature changes.

The new batteries checked out fine.

With NASA's three remaining space shuttles set for retirement next year, there will no way for astronauts to return to Hubble.

The new spacecraft under development will be much smaller and less of a workhorse than the shuttle, and lacks a big robot arm for grabbing the telescope. Hubble's replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be launched in 2014 by an unmanned rocket and placed in an orbit inaccessible to astronauts.

If everything goes well, the shuttle astronauts will set Hubble free today.


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