- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin announced yesterday 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 disappointed 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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