The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis is preparing to return to Earth this Friday after successfully repairing and upgrading the Hubble telescope.

The Hubble now has two brand new instruments, a new computer unit and several repaired instruments, making it more powerful 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.

The Hubble Space Telescope was placed into orbit by the Space Shuttle Discovery in April 1990. Since then, the telescope has undergone five servicing missions to repair various systems and flaws. According to NASA, the telescope has cost the United States $9.6 billion since its launch.

Niedner said the space shuttle Atlantis mission 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 fixes that have been made to the Hubble should keep it running for another five years, if not seven or eight years, according to Niedner.