The space shuttle Atlantis and seven astronauts blasted off today en route to the Hubble Space Telescope. It is NASA's final trip to Hubble and comes after a seven-month delay. Atlantis and its crew were supposed to fly to Hubble last fall, but the telescope broke down. The telescope is in need of new equipment and repairs, and the shuttle should arrive at the orbiting observatory Wednesday.
The $1 billion repair job will feature five spacewalks. The astronauts will install new cameras, batteries, and gyroscopes, and attempt to fix two broken science instruments on a mission fraught with more risk than usual. Atlantis will be flying in an unusually high orbit for a space shuttle, 350 miles up where there is more debris. Another shuttle is on a launch pad and ready to lift off on a rescue mission if Atlantis is seriously damaged during the 11-day flight.