CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Their mission accomplished, space shuttle Columbia's astronauts released a more energetic and scientifically potent Hubble Space Telescope into orbit Saturday after five days of repairs.
"Good luck, Mr. Hubble," astronaut John Grunsfeld called out.
Shuttle crane operator Nancy Currie set Hubble free as the two spacecraft zoomed 360 miles above the Atlantic. She had used Columbia's robot arm last weekend to capture the 43-foot, 24,500-pound telescope and anchor it in the cargo bay.
Columbia slowly backed away from Hubble, giving the world its last close-up look at the telescope until astronauts return for another overhaul in two years.
"A beautiful view of Mr. Hubble, the telescope, over the Earth's horizon, ready to go and make new discoveries," said Grunsfeld, the chief telescope repairman. "We bid Hubble well on its new journey with its new tools to explore the universe."
Replied Mission Control: "And we wish it well from down here as well."
Over the past week, two teams of spacewalking astronauts outfitted Hubble with smaller but more powerful solar wings, a more robust central power controller, a pointing mechanism, an advanced camera for peering deeper than ever into the universe, and a super-cold refrigerator for revitalizing a disabled infrared camera.
All the new components passed initial testing. It will be at least a month, however, before NASA knows whether the experimental cooling system was able to get the infrared camera working. The first enhanced pictures are expected by early May.
"I tell you, I just can't wait for the next couple weeks when we start seeing images out of that beauty because I think it's going to roll everybody's socks down," shuttle pilot Duane Carey said.
Columbia's crew of seven, meanwhile, is due back on Earth on Tuesday.
More nerve-racking than any single repair was the complete shutdown of the $2 billion-plus telescope for the replacement of the central power controller.
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