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US Astronauts Begin Marathon Spacewalk to Repair Hubble Telescope

Two U.S. space shuttle astronauts completed the first of five marathon spacewalks Thursday to make repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope. The astronauts floated away from Atlantis to start the complicated mission to fix the aging telescope that has not had any upgrades since 2002.

Astronauts John Grunsfeld and Drew Feustel had no problems in the first hours of this 6 1/2 hour spacewalk. This mission is more dangerous than others because astronauts are operating in an orbit littered by debris left behind after satellite collisions and rocket launches.

This day, they are replacing the Hubble's old camera. The new model will allow the telescope to look deeper into the universe. The shuttle's 15 meter long robot arm held the school bus-sized telescope in place as the two spacecrafts sailed 563 kilometers above Australia.

Nearly three hours into the repairs astronaut Feustel removed the old camera and expressed his glee. "Three, ya hoo. It is moving out. Four, great job great news, awesome," he said.

This is the first of five scheduled spacewalks to service Hubble and keep it operating. The telescope has been in orbit since 1990 and this is the fifth and final flight to make upgrades and repairs to it. NASA officials, including the lead flight director, Tony Ceccacci, say they are pleased with the progress. "It's down and its ready for the five EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activities or space walks) we have planned for the next five days. I just want to say: it was a great team effort," he said.

The astronauts will also replace Hubble's science data computer that failed last September and prepare the orbiting telescope for de-orbit at the end of its life. Two teams of spacewalking astronauts will take turns replacing Hubble's batteries and gyroscopes, and a pointing mechanism.

Space agency officials say the repairs and upgrades will give Hubble a new lease on life. It will allow the telescope to continue to operate another five to 10 years, providing researchers on earth with dazzling views of the cosmos.