NASA's souped-up Hubble set to probe history of the cosmos

With the and more powerful than ever, the orbiter soon will be looking out toward the edge of the observable universe, probing the early history of the cosmos.

With two brand new instruments, a new computer unit and several repaired instruments, than ever after 19 years aloft, said Malcolm Niedner, deputy senior project scientist for Hubble. "We always take Hubble's capabilities forward by factors of 10, 20 and 30 in key performance areas," said Niedner, who has been on the Hubble team for 16 years and involved in all five of its servicing missions. "Hubble is absolutely at the top of its game."

Niedner said the to repair and upgrade the telescope was a total success with the astronauts accomplishing more than NASA had hoped for.

"I am absolutely overwhelmed by what the astronauts did. I am overwhelmed by what just happened in space. And a lot of it was really hard," said Niedner. "The two instrument repairs were always viewed as an experiment. When you're opening up instruments and doing surgery in the shuttle bay, the odds of success are obviously going to be less. We didn't just dust off an old design. As a scientist what excites me the most is that we enhanced the telescope significantly."

The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis is on the tail end of its 11-day mission to get the Hubble not only back in working order but to upgrade what has become one of the most important tools to the world's astronomers. During its 19 years in orbit, Hubble's discoveries have been so important that they've forced academics to revise astronomy text books, said Ruitberg. It took deep and captured images of the .

It also played a key role in discovering that the universe, driven by a mysterious force called , is expanding at an accelerating rate. And that most galaxies in the universe contain massive black holes.