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SLUG: 5-54899 Hubble telescope's future










INTRO: After 14 years of stunning cosmic observations, the Hubble Space Telescope is facing oblivion. The U-S space agency NASA has canceled its final maintenance by a space shuttle crew, upsetting many astronomers, politicians, and private citizens. But as V-O-A's David McAlary reports, new techniques in astronomy are making the Hubble obsolete.

TEXT: The Hubble was designed for servicing by space shuttle crews. Four shuttle missions since 1993 have kept it in the proper orbit and outfitted it with the latest technology.

But the loss of the shuttle Columbia last year has led NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe to call off the final servicing mission in 2006. The independent panel investigating the Columbia accident had described the space agency as lacking a culture of safety, and Mr. O'Keefe -- being extra cautious -- says he believes another shuttle visit to the Hubble is too risky.

/// O'KEEFE ACT ///

In looking at the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and our efforts to implement each recommendation faithfully, it requires a level of risk that is higher to achieve (with) that particular mission than (with) any to the international space station.

/// END ACT ///

One problem is that the telescope is not in the space station's orbit, so astronauts could not make an emergency docking to the station if the shuttle were in danger.

With no further missions to repair and upgrade Hubble, it could stop performing in four years.

NASA's decision has brought a strong complaint from a professional astronomers' organization, the American Astronomical Society, which says Hubble will be lost when it is still capable of gathering important information.

/// MARVEL ACT ///

We would be very happy if a way could be found to carry out the servicing mission for Hubble.

/// END ACT ///

This is the astronomical society's executive director, Kevin Marvel.

/// 2nd MARVEL ACT ///

We had plans to improve its capability during the upcoming servicing mission and that's why our society is so concerned that that servicing mission was canceled.

/// END ACT ///

A U-S senator (Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland) with NASA oversight authority has appealed to agency head O'Keefe to reconsider his decision, so he has asked the retired admiral who led the Columbia accident probe to review it.

Even some NASA employees want another Hubble maintenance mission. Internal engineering memos leaked to the news media say a mission to Hubble would be no less safe than a space station docking. One memo argues that if a repair mission took place when another shuttle was at the station, the second shuttle could act as a rescue vehicle if necessary.

NASA officials counter by saying that mounting two shuttle missions at once would put the same kind of stress on the agency that led to the Columbia disaster.

NASA's chief of space science, Ed Weiler [WYE-ler], says Hubble is nearing the end of its intended lifetime anyway.

/// WEILER ACT ///

Hubble was promised as a 15-year mission. We will have met our lifetime (goal)next year in 2005. It has accomplished all and exceeded all of its scientific goals. So the mission has been a total success up to this point and we hope to continue to do great science with it for at least three or four more years.

/// END ACT ///

President Bush's science adviser, John Marburger, told a House of Representatives science committee recently that technological advancements with other telescopes are making Hubble obsolete.


If serviced, I have no doubt that the Hubble would continue to provide world class scientific data, but the safety issues cannot be ignored and they must be considered not only with respect to the Hubble capability, but also the ever-increasing capability of ground-based telescopes combined with the exciting next-generation space observatories now being built.

/// END ACT ///

This includes the James Webb telescope, planned for launch in 2011. Unlike Hubble, which sees mainly in the visible light spectrum, the Webb instrument will observe infrared light below that spectrum.

Astronomers complain that it will not replace Hubble's optical capabilities, which have seen further out in the universe and therefore farther back in time than any other instrument so far. But they concede that even if Hubble were to survive, the Webb observatory would become the dominant platform because it has the better chance to see further away. The most distant objects are more easily seen in the infrared because light from celestial bodies shifts downs to these lower wavelengths as they recede from us in the expanding universe, just as a passing car horn drops in pitch.


/// 3rd MARVEL ACT ///

All astronomers would be happy to have 100 percent coverage of all wavelengths of light, but having that would be very expensive, so you have to have tradeoffs.

/// END ACT ///

Again, American Astronomical Society official Kevin Marvel.

/// 4th MARVEL ACT ///

The James Webb Space Telescope is targeted to understand the early evolution of galaxies in the universe. That's something that Hubble has just started to dig into, but James Webb Space Telescope will be able to do more.

/// END ACT ///

Mr. Marvel says that, given the choice between the two telescopes, astronomers would choose the Webb, but will nevertheless miss Hubble. (SIGNED)


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