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Tue, Apr 05, 2005

NASA Panel: Deorbit Hubble -- No More

Another Nail In The Coffin?

After a major review last week, NASA has decided the only action it will take when it comes to the Hubble Space Telescope is to move it into a position for deorbiting. At the very least, it seems another nail in the coffin of what experts call the most valuable piece of scientific hardware ever invented.

"The NASA position is [that] we are not contemplating continuing the telerobotic servicing mission," said the space agency's program executive for the Hubble Robotic Servicing Mission, Mark Borkowski, who also led last week's review. "We are planning to convert to a deorbit-only mission," he said in an interview with Space.com.

Borkowski and company have been working at the Goddard Space Flight Center, trying to come up with a viable telerobotic mission to save the Hubble. If the space telescope isn't serviced by as soon as 2007, its backers say there's an ever-increasing chance the vehicle will break down. The group included 200 NASA experts and contractors.

"Our best estimate is we probably will be able to continue to do science as we're doing it... somewhere into 2008," Borkowski said.

Not everyone who was in on the meeting concurs. "When you tell people working on Hubble that something can't be done…they just take that as a challenge," said one senior official who was involved in last week's review. Telerobotics experts working on the Hubble telescope "hit a home run" recently by demonstrating an ability to overhaul the telescope, as well as give it a set of new instruments, the source said. "We sure don't see any showstoppers," the source said.

The decision comes after the White House announced plans to scrap the Hubble, bringing it down into a remote part of some ocean.

"Now we're going to go through a very deliberative decision process here. We will listen to what people have to say," Borkowski said. "We don't want to sound like we're irrationally inflexible, but at this point we don't see a likelihood that there is some new information out there that's going to cause us to have a revelation."

So what's left in terms of options for those who want to save Hubble? If a robotic mission is out, then Hubble proponents say there's nothing left to do but send a manned mission up to extend Hubble's life.

NASA must "do what is necessary and mount a human mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope," said Mars Society president Robert Zubrin and Space Frontier Foundation founder Rick Tumlinson in a joint news release last week. "The technology simply does not exist to repair and upgrade Hubble using robotic or tele-robotic means. This leaves NASA with a clear choice: either send astronauts to repair and upgrade Hubble as originally planned, or lose the greatest astronomical observatory ever built."

FMI: http://hubblesite.org

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