Astronauts using the robot arm on the space shuttle Atlantis have captured the Hubble Space Telescope, which is set to undergo a complex repair job. Astronauts are scheduled to perform five space walks in the coming days to complete the work.
The shuttle Atlantis closed in on the Hubble Space Telescope as the two orbited the Earth, high above western Australia. Astronaut Megan McArthur guided the shuttle's 15-meter robot arm to grab the orbiting telescope and move it into the shuttle's payload bay.
Shuttle commander Scott Altman radioed officials at Johnson Space Center to report the procedure was successful.
NASA officials say the repair mission is more dangerous than typical shuttle flights to the International Space Station because of the risks posed by space debris. The Hubble's orbit is about 200 kilometers higher than that of the space station, and shares the orbit with many small pieces of space junk left over from satellite collisions and rocket launches.
Despite the dangerous environment, astronaut John Grunsfeld said the telescope appears to be in good condition.
"I am looking out the window here, and it is an unbelievably beautiful sight," he said. "Amazingly, the exterior of Hubble, an old man of 19 years in space, still looks in fantastic shape."
Grunsfeld was involved in two earlier repair missions to the Hubble telescope, including the last shuttle visit in 2002. He and other astronauts on board Atlantis will install new batteries, gyroscopes and thermal covers, and repair some electronic systems.
NASA officials hope the $1 billion mission will extend the Hubble's lifespan by at least five years, allowing it to provide more views of distant stars and galaxies in space.