NASA gives green light to send­ing shut­tle crew on Hub­ble re­pair mis­sion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Joyce Howard Price

NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Michael D. Grif­fin an­nounced on Oct. 31 that the agency will send a space shut­tle crew to up­grade and re­pair the or­bit­ing Hub­ble Space Tele­scope, re­vers­ing an or­der by his pre­de­ces­sor to forgo the Hub­ble mis­sion be­cause of safety con­cerns.

“We have con­ducted a de­tailed anal­y­sis of the per­for­mance and pro­ce­dures nec­es­sary to carry out a suc­cess­ful Hub­ble re­pair mis­sion over the course of the last three shut­tle mis­sions,” Mr. Grif­fin told an au­di­ence of 300 sci­en­tists at the God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter in Green­belt. God­dard is the NASA cen­ter re­spon­si­ble for man­ag­ing Hub­ble.

“What we have learned has con­vinced us that we are able to con­duct a safe and ef­fec­tive ser­vic­ing mis­sion to Hub­ble,” he said. The mis­sion is ten­ta­tively sched­uled for the spring of 2008.

Sean O’Keefe, who headed the space agency when the Columbia dis­as­ter killed seven as­tro­nauts in early 2003, can­celed an­other Hub­ble re­pair mis­sion, say­ing the risks to a shut­tle crew were too great.

The an­nounce­ment disap- pointed space sci­en­tists, and tens of thou­sands of cit­i­zens sent e-mails and let­ters to NASA and the White House re­quest­ing a re­prieve for Hub­ble.

With its many breath­tak­ing images of the cos­mos, Hub­ble has been called the “peo­ple’s tele­scope.”

Mr. Grif­fin ac­knowl­edged “there is an in­her­ent risk in all space­flight ac­tiv­i­ties,” but said the “de­sire to pre­serve a truly in­ter­na­tional as­set like the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope makes do­ing this mis­sion the right course of ac­tion.”

The space tele­scope, which was launched in 1990, likely would de­te­ri­o­rate in 2009 or 2010 if not ser­viced. Ag­ing bat­ter­ies and fad­ing gy­ro­scopes in the space in­stru­ment would be­gin fail­ing af­ter 2008.

Pre­ston Burch, pro­gram man­ager for the Hub­ble project, said, “This makeover will be the best thing ever for Hub­ble and will ex­tend its life by five or six years.”

Hub­ble’s first pic­tures were dis­torted be­cause of a lens prob­lem. Af­ter cor­rec­tions were made in 1993, the tele­scope gave sci­en­tists an eye-open­ing look at the uni­verse as it was 12 bil­lion years ago, the dis­cov­ery of black holes at the cen­ters of many gal­ax­ies, mea­sure­ments that helped es­tab­lish the size and age of the uni­verse and ev­i­dence that ex­pan­sion of the uni­verse is ac­cel­er­at­ing.

Mr. O’Keefe’s main con­cern about the safety of a mis­sion to re­pair Hub­ble was that as­tro­nauts bound for the or­bit­ing tele­scope would not have a refuge in case of a catas­tro­phe, such as the heat-shield dam­age that led to the de­struc­tion of Columbia.

NASA plans to have an­other shut­tle on the launch­ing pad to make an emer­gency res­cue trip if nec­es­sary.

The Hub­ble ser­vic­ing mis­sion will be an 11-day flight in­volv­ing a crew of seven on Space Shut­tle Dis­cov­ery. The space­craft will ren­dezvous with Hub­ble on the third day of the flight. As­tro­nauts will use a me­chan­i­cal arm to ma­neu­ver the tele­scope onto a work plat­form in the shut­tle’s cargo bay.

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