Ken KremerMay 22, 2009

Farewell to Hubble, Obama Calls, Astronauts Testify to Congress as Shuttle is Set to Land

Update -- WAVE OFF: After initially delaying re-entry by one orbit, NASA's STS-125 Entry Flight Director Norm Knight has decided to wave off all landing attempts on Friday. The continuing threat of low cloud ceilings, excessive crosswinds, thunder and heavy rain would not permit a safe landing. The astronauts will get a bonus day in space as the payload bay doors remain open. Weather conditions are forecast to improve slightly for Saturday.

The next landing attempt has been rescheduled to Saturday at 9:16 AM EDT. Edwards Air Force base will be activated as an alternate landing site.

Keep up with the latest news about Atlantis' landing at NASA's website.

The crew of Atlantis bid a final farewell to Hubble when they released it back into space at 8:57 AM EDT on Tuesday, May 19 after completing all 5 spacewalks to service and upgrade the telescope. This was NASA's last mission to Hubble and thus the eyes of the crew are likely the last time humans will ever gaze upon her.

Hubble Drifts Away
Hubble Drifts Away Space shuttle Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope drift apart on May 19, 2009, having been linked together for the better part of a week.Image: NASA

Astronaut Megan McArthur grabbed Hubble with the shuttle's robotic arm and lifted it out of Atlantis' payload bay to release it. Ground teams later opened Hubble's aperture door, which is the large shutter that protects the telescope's primary and secondary mirrors.

Ready to be Released
Ready to be Released The Hubble Space Telescope is lifted completely out of Atlantis' cargo bay on May 19, 2009 and release is moments away to start it on its way to observe the universe.Image: NASA

President Barack Obama called the Atlantis astronauts from the White House on Wednesday (May 20) to offer his congratulations on the dramatically successful and inspiring mission to save the iconic telescope.

"I wanted to personally tell you how proud I am of all of you and everything that you've accomplished. Like a lot of Americans, I've been watching with amazement the gorgeous images you've been sending back and the incredible repair mission you've been making in space. I think you're providing a wonderful example of the kind of dedication and commitment to exploration that represents America and the space program generally. And these are traits that have always made this country strong and all of you personify them", said Obama.

Obama speaks to Atlantis Crew

Obama speaks to Atlantis Crew

President Barack Obama talks on the telephone to the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the Oval Office, Wednesday, May 20, 2009.

"Well thank you very much, sir," Commander Altman replied. "I think you are exactly right, this mission has been an example of what our country can do as we work together. It's been the teamwork of all the folks on the ground in addition to the folks outside spacewalking, making this all come together and work for us."

John Grunsfeld said, "Well, thanks very much Mr. President. I know we all believe that in our hearts. What always strikes me as being so incredible is that it's almost impossible to go into any K-12 classroom these days and not see Hubble images on the wall inspiring kids to do great things and maybe some of them to become astronauts some day and push our frontiers even farther.

President Obama replied, "Well, I know that you've excited my 10-year-old and my 7-year-old. And they've got some images like that that they prize whenever we talk about space. And so, by allowing Hubble to continue on its journey, you've really allowed all of us to continue on our journey for growth and exploration".

Today (May 21) for the first time in spaceflight history an astronaut crew orbiting the earth testified live from space before Congress. The STS-125 crew testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, chaired by Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. Mikulski and former astronaut Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, spoke with the crew.

STS-125 - Flight Day 10

STS-125 - Flight Day 10

The crew members for the STS-125 mission pose for the traditional in-flight portrait on the middeck of Atlantis. Pictured on the front row are astronauts Scott Altman (center), commander; Gregory C. Johnson, pilot; and Megan McArthur, mission specialist on Flight Day 10, May 20, 2009. Pictured on the back row (left to right) are astronauts Michael Good, Mike Massimino, John Grunsfeld and Andrew Feustel, all mission specialists.

Gen. Mikulski said "We salute your daring, your bravery and your courage. You were willing to risk your lives." John Grunsfeld responded, "Hubble is the greatest science instrument of all time. It will help us understand where we come from. It's definitely worth it".

Space Shuttle Atlantis has been cleared for de-orbit and re-entry on Friday May 22 after the now standard re-inspection of the thermal protection system revealed no problems with the protective heat shield tiles and no other systems malfunctions. Space Shuttle Endeavour has been released from stand-by duty as a possible

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