Seven NASA astronauts are set to begin their two-day journey to the space telescope.
Astronauts began boarding the shuttle Atlantis on Monday to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center for an 11-day mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA said the shuttle had arrived at its launchpad and the countdown for takeoff at 2:01 p.m. EDT is going smoothly. Weather forecasts indicate a 90% chance of favorable launch conditions.
Cmdr. Scott Altman will lead Atlantis' seven-person crew on a final mission to service the Hubble, and retired Navy Capt. Gregory C. Johnson will pilot the shuttle. Other crew members include NASA veterans John Grunsfeld and Mike Massimino. Andrew Feustel, Michael Good, and Megan McArthur will join them for their first voyages into space.
The mission will include five spacewalks, lasting about six to seven hours each. Astronauts will install new instruments, restore power systems, and replace parts so the telescope can continue to work until 2014 or beyond. The shuttle Atlantis will carry a Science Instrument Command and Data Handling Unit to replace an old one. Astronauts will install the unit on the Hubble and remove one that stopped working in September. The mission to service the telescope was postponed last fall for the completion of that replacement part.
The Hubble launched 19 years ago. It will take astronauts two days to reach it. The first spacewalk will begin on the third day of Atlantis' 30th mission. Since the Hubble does not contain provisional supplies for the astronauts, the shuttle Endeavour is on standby in case of emergency.
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