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The Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting earth for 19 years and it's working better than ever, that's what NASA officials said today. They were releasing the first images taken by Hubble after astronauts refurbished it. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has this story.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: The Hubble Space Telescope has been upgraded five times in space, the most recent mission almost didn't happen. It was cancelled after the space shuttle Columbia disaster. NASA officials felt going to Hubble again might be too risky. But astronomers fought the decision, hoping to keep Hubble alive. And in the end, the mission went forward in May. Astronauts did five tricky spacewalks. They installed a new camera, added a fancy new spectrograph, plus fixed two other instruments. Ed Weiler heads up NASA's Science Mission Directorate. He says, after the mission was over, he kept hearing one question.
Dr. ED WEILER (Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA): When are we going to see the pictures? We know we've had successful spacewalks, but when will we see the pictures?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Today, at a press conference at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., a music video featuring colorful new pictures flashed on a screen: faraway galaxies, a nebula shaped like a butterfly and a densely packed star cluster.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of applause)
GREENFIELDBOYCE: After a summer testing and calibrating the telescope, scientists say Hubble is now more powerful than ever before. Heidi Hammel works at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Dr. HEIDI HAMMEL (Senior Research Scientist, Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado): We in the community are already starting to get our data and we are giddy with the quality of the data that we have with this new telescope.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: David Leckrone is senior project scientist for Hubble at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. He says with the new and improved Hubble, the backgrounds of images are full of interesting detail.
Dr. DAVID LECKRONE (Senior Project Scientist for Hubble, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA, Maryland): You can already see remarkable differences between what we're seeing now and what we saw with the prior instrumentation - just in this ability to see, oh, look what's in the background. My goodness, I didn't realize that was there.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says plans for future observations includes studying objects like Pluto at the edge of our solar system and analyzing the atmospheres of planets around other stars. The astronauts who did all these fixes last spring say they were amazed by the new pictures. Mike Massimino says when they closed up Hubble for the last time and came home, they thought the mission had gone well.
Mr. MIKE MASSIMINO (Astronaut): And so it's really great to see the evidence that it actually does work. And those images just look great. And I am so grateful that it is working, and that I didn't break anything.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENFIELDBOYCE: NASA has no plans to repair Hubble again. The hope is that it will continue working until at least 2014, that's when the agency plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, a new large space observatory.
Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
SIEGEL: And you can see that nebula shaped like a butterfly and more Hubble images at npr.org.
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