The crew of space shuttle Discovery packed up its tools today and prepared to return home after an eight-day mission of repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope that NASA declared a success.
Discovery was scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center at 5:21 p.m. Monday.
The mission was cut short by launch delays and frustrated by complicated repairs, but four Discovery astronauts managed to install almost $70 million worth of equipment, including a computer that is 20 times faster than its old one; new gyroscopes; batteries with voltage regulators to prevent overheating; a new guidance unit, data recorder and radio transmitter; and steel sun shades to protect Hubble from solar damage.
Astronauts didn't have time to install all six sun shades because the last of four planned spacewalks was canceled because of time constraints. A record nine launch delays forced NASA to cut two days off the mission, and NASA's desire to get the shuttle back on Earth before New Year's Eve made for a tight schedule, said astronaut Michael Foale.
"Obviously this mission was squeezed, between the delayed liftoff and the end of the year," said astronaut Claude Nicollier. "A little disappointment, yes, but we hope to recover from that some other time."
The $3 billion space observatory stopped working Nov. 13 after a series of gyroscope breakdowns. Without enough functioning gyroscopes, the telescope could not hold steady while focusing on stars, galaxies and other cosmic targets.