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Space shuttle Atlantis closing in on Hubble

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Hubble mission, shuttle, AtlantisAtlantis is in its final approach to the Hubble Space Telescope, closing in for a scheduled rendezvous at 12:54 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time. After the shuttle catches up to the telescope in orbit and draws within 35 feet, astronaut Megan McArthur will maneuver the shuttle's robotic arm to grasp Hubble and pull it into Atlantis's payload bay.

Tomorrow the real work starts, with the first of five scheduled spacewalks designed to replace aging or faulty components and install two new scientific instruments on the 19-year-old observatory.

During yesterday's standard inspection of the shuttle's heat shield using boom-mounted sensors, NASA spotted some nicking near where the right wing meets the fuselage.

In a news conference yesterday afternoon, the shuttle's lead flight director said the damage appeared minor on initial evaluation, but the space agency will continue to review imagery from the inspection to determine whether further examination is needed to ensure the shuttle is fit to re-enter the atmosphere.

Artist's conception of Hubble/shuttle rendezvous from 2002 servicing mission: European Space Agency

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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