Space shuttle crew begins maintenance operation on giant telescope.
Astronauts aboard the shuttle Atlantis have begun to position the Hubble Space Telescope for repairs.
The spacecraft was nearing the telescope Wednesday as its radar system tracked the telescope and the speed at which the shuttle approached the Hubble. Atlantis closed in on the last 10 miles as it moved 340 miles above the coast of Madagascar.
The crew planned to grab, or capture, the telescope using the shuttle's robotic arm this afternoon and link it to the shuttle using the Flight Support System so they can begin a series of five six- to seven-hour spacewalks to service the Hubble. The first spacewalk is planned for Thursday.
Ground Control engineers are inspecting Atlantis' thermal protection system and exterior, where at least one area was damaged. NASA said Wednesday that the damage, on the front of the shuttle, where the wing meets the fuselage, appears minor. NASA said that it doesn't look like that damage poses a risk to the mission and the STS-125 flight team doesn't believe more inspection of that damaged area is necessary.
The crew awoke around 4 a.m., Wednesday to a Jack Johnson song, "Upside Down," played for mission specialist Megan McArthur. As they slept, the telescope's high-gain antenna retracted to prepare for Atlantis. As the shuttle approached the Hubble, ground crews will move the telescope so it can berth in the shuttle's payload bay.
Once Hubble and Atlantis are linked, the astronauts will inspect the telescope, review procedures for Thursday's spacewalk, and finish inspecting tools they will use, NASA said.
The 11-day mission aims to service the Hubble so it will continue working through at least 2014.
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