Hubble's Cosmic Comeback: NASA Releases New Images

Photo: Hubbles Cosmic Comeback: NASA Releases New Images: The Peoples Telescope Comes Back Online After Major Upgrades

NASA's "comeback kid" has done it again.

After astronauts of the space shuttle Atlantis made a risky servicing mission in May, the Hubble Space Telescope is back and better than ever, once again capturing astonishing images of the cosmos and sending them back to Earth.

Today, NASA released images from the newly refurbished telescope, confirming that Atlantis' mission was a success.

VIDEO: NASA reveals images from newly refurbished telescope.
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Click here for new images from Hubble.

It had been seven years since astronauts had serviced Hubble. It was designed for routine upgrades, but this year's mission had been delayed -- and, for a couple of years, canceled -- in the wake of the 2003 Columbia disaster. By the time Atlantis arrived, Hubble was on its last legs.

Two instruments were completely out of service, and several components, including batteries and gyroscopes, needed replacing.

"To say Hubble was limping is probably an understatement," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for science at NASA. "It was limping. It really needed this mission."

NASA's Risky Mission Pays Off

In a high-speed, high-risk dance hundreds of miles above Earth, astronauts replaced sensors, removed blown circuit boards and made many repairs to bring several instruments back to life.

And it appears the gamble was worth it.

"You know, the proof is really in the pudding when we get to see those pictures because that's why we went, to expand Hubble's discovery potential," said astronaut Scott Altman, commander of Atlantis' mission. "And to see the discoveries come down as a direct result of the work that everyone did to make that possible, I think, is extremely rewarding."

The new repairs could give the telescope up to 10 more years of life, Weiler said.

"We think of it as a new beginning. It's not a 19-year-old telescope," he said. "It's a new telescope again. It's like taking your old car into the shop and having new tires, new engine, and a new paint job."

And, Altman said, the servicing mission expanded the Hubble's power.

"It has just extended its reach so it can take more observations, spend less time pointing at something to get the same amount of information, and just really dramatically expanded the amount of scientific data and incredible pictures that can come down to the ground for our research and enjoyment," he said.

But there's more to this groundbreaking telescope than you might think.

In honor of it's latest comeback, here are 10 things you probably don't know yet about Hubble.

1. NASA's "Comeback Kid" started out as a failure.

Now, it's an international sensation, widely known as the "people's telescope." But that wasn't always the case.

"It is now viewed as this unqualified success that has transformed our knowledge of the universe," said Roger Launius, senior curator for the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. "I've heard it compared to, in terms of its impacts, the same level of change as when Galileo first turned his homemade telescope on Jupiter in 1609."

But "the telescope began life being viewed as a flop," he said.

A measuring error in the grinding of the mirror prevented the telescope from focusing light properly. As a result, soon after its launch in April 1990, the photos sent back to Earth were fuzzy disappointments.

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