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