EARTH-BOUND astronomers frustrated by the Hubble Space Telescope's flaws have often wished to get their hands on it. Now astronauts on board the shuttle Endeavour are doing it for them.
At press time, they had already completed initial repairs. This early success has buoyed flight controllers' confidence that the rest of this demanding mission can be accomplished. ``We're real pleased with the way things went,'' said shuttle commander Richard Covey. ``It looks like anytime you can declare victory on [spacewalk] Day 1, then you're doing pretty well.''
Astronauts captured the 25,000-pound telescope Saturday after a 820,000-mile orbital chase, with both telescope and spacecraft racing along at about 17,500 miles an hour.
They found, surprisingly, that one of the telescope's two 40-foot-long solar panels was bent. After the shuttle's manipulator arm brought the telescope to rest on a mount in the payload bay, officials decided that astronaut Kathy Thornton would throw the damaged panel over the side Sunday night. And so it became space junk.
Spacewalkers - working in teams of two - have already installed the new gyroscopes and made some other repairs. In the five days planned for cargo bay activities, they have 11 parts to install on the $1.6 billion Hubble. That includes the two pairs of gyroscopes. This restored the telescope's full complement of six operating gyroscopes.
The biggest job lies ahead - installing correction lenses to overcome the optical defect in the main mirror. The five days planned for spacewalks will be a United States record. There is enough slack in Endeavour's flight plan to allow even more time in the cargo bay if needed.