Atlantis' astronauts gingerly dropped the Hubble Space Telescope overboard today, sending the restored observatory off on a new voyage of discovery and bidding it farewell on behalf of the planet, reports the AP. The shuttle and telescope had just crossed the Atlantic, and were soaring 350 miles above the coast of northwestern Africa, when astronaut Megan McArthur used a robot arm to release the snares gripping Hubble. Then the shuttle slowly backed away.
"Hubble has been released," reported the mission commander. "It's safely back on its journey of exploration as we begin steps to conclude ours." Hubble, considered better than new following five days of repairs and upgrades, will never be seen up close by humans again. During five days of spacewalks, Atlantis' crew labored tirelessly on the 19-year-old observatory, attaching new instruments and fixing old ones. Their work should give Hubble another five to 10 years.