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NASA Urged to Reconsider Shuttle Mission to HST 199

Posted by timothy
from the some-clown-on-the-moon dept.
LMCBoy writes "Space.com reports today that the National Academies of Science has released its recommendation to NASA on the future of the Hubble Space Telescope. They conclude that 'NASA should take no actions that would preclude a space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.' They also say that none of the safety requirements of the CAIB report preclude a manned servicing mission to HST." Read on for more.

"The NAS recommendation would reverse NASA's previous position that a shuttle repair mission is ruled out for safety reasons. In the wake of strong criticisms of this decision, NASA has also been considering a robotic repair mission. The robotic mission would not risk human lives, but it relies on a number of bleeding-edge technologies that would have to be deployed on a very short timescale. HST's remaining gyroscopes are not expected to last beyond 2007."

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NASA Urged to Reconsider Shuttle Mission to HST

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  • by britneys 9th husband (741556) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:16AM (#9694346) Homepage Journal
    What a shame it would be to spend all that money putting Hubble up there and then not servicing it because of budget cuts. That would be like spending $20,000 on a new car and then deciding a few years later that you can't afford to take it in for an oil change. It's already up there, they might as well service it.
    • by xmas2003 (739875) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:52AM (#9694482) Homepage
      To be more exact, according to the NASA Hubble site [nasa.gov], it cost $1.5 Billion to build and put it up into orbit, and has an annual operating budget (including data analysis, etc.) of $230-250 million.

      And Hubble's second servicing mission [nasa.gov] cost $347 million plus another $448 million for the Shuttle flight - I believe that is in 1996 dollars.

      So as a taxpayer, for all that dough, how 'bout some new satellite pictures [komar.org] of my house! ;-)

    • by dcw3 (649211) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @06:10AM (#9695055) Journal
      What a shame it would be to spend all that money putting Hubble up there and then not servicing it because of budget cuts. That would be like spending $20,000 on a new car and then deciding a few years later that you can't afford to take it in for an oil change. It's already up there, they might as well service it.

      The Hubble was built in 1985. So, your analogy is a bit off base. It would be more like repairing that old 128k MacIntosh you bought back then. There's a time to repair, and there's a time to move on to newer technology. Otherwise, you're only hanging on for sentimental reasons, not for science.

      • The Hubble was built in 1985. So, your analogy is a bit off base. It would be more like repairing that old 128k MacIntosh you bought back then. There's a time to repair, and there's a time to move on to newer technology.

        If all you had was that 128k Macintosh, and you knew you wouldn't be able to get a replacement for another decade (at best), then it would make very good sense to repair it.
      • by pohl (872) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @09:15AM (#9695831) Homepage
        It would be more like repairing that old 128k MacIntosh you bought back then.

        Yeah, it would be exactly like that if and only if computational power had not increased exponentially in the interim and only one such orbital Macintosh existed.

      • Yes, but the Hubble upgrades are like taking that 128k Macintosh and putting in a water-cooled dual G5 and a new LCD display. The newer cameras on Hubble, the WFPC3 and the NICMOS (i think), have proven worlds better than their predecessor instruments, literally. Hubble wasn't meant to be upgraded like that, but the engineers have figured out how to do it anyway. Think of the Hubble as a platform, not a single instrument.

        Ideally, I would like to see several Hubble clones in solar orbit - capable of acting
    • by adeyadey (678765) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @06:39AM (#9695124) Journal
      I believe that Hubble should probably be serviced, but the equation is pretty marginal, I think. If it wasnt for the fact that we (think we) have to go back up and fit retros anyway, (and that the upgrade CCDs etc have been built) I would be for just running it until it stopped working & putting the money into new scopes, maybe a 2nd UV/Visable capable one to join the JWT.

      Hubble is in the wrong place - it is inoperable for half the time, since the earth blocks its view as it orbits - much better to place it the Lagrange point like the JWT. Modern space scopes can have much bigger lightweight segmented mirrors - again like JWT. Hubble is also just plain old - all the bits are starting to wear out, take micrometeor hits, and so on. Manned repairs also make no sense whatsoever, at the current (stupid) shuttle mission costs.

      Hubble has of course been great sucess in many ways, but technology has moved on since the late 70's when it was concieved.

      Personally I wonder if it is even worth spending $300m+ just for a "safe deorbit" - its the old argument - ie: that money spent AIDS drugs for Africa would save many more lifes than are threatened by Hubble reentry..
      • Hubble is in the wrong place - it is inoperable for half the time, since the earth blocks its view as it orbits...

        Not necessarily true. Hubble is in orbit at a fairly shallow inclination (28 degrees). Picture the Solar System--the Sun and Earth-Moon system are all in the same 'horizontal' plane; Hubble's orbit is slanted about thirty degrees from that, but still pretty close. Pointing 'up' or 'down' out of that plane, neither Sun, Moon, nor Earth ever enters its field of view.

    • by amightywind (691887) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @08:26AM (#9695486) Journal

      What a shame it would be to spend all that money putting Hubble up there and then not servicing it because of budget cuts. That would be like spending $20,000 on a new car and then deciding a few years later that you can't afford to take it in for an oil change. It's already up there, they might as well service it.

      Hubble is in the 14th year of a 10 year mission. The decision to service hubble is no different than deciding to put a new engine in an old car with 200,000 miles, with the added twist that there is a 1 in 50 chance that a 7 person crew would die doing it. The reason NASA O'Keefe has decided not to service Hubble with the shuttle is that it is judged to be unsafe given the Columbia review board's recommendations. Namely, the shuttle should have access to the safe haven of the ISS if it is to keep flying. This story adds nothing new to the debate. Hubble's replacement is on the way. Perhaps its leisurely schedule of the James Webb Telescope can be accelerated.

      • For that sort of observatory, schedule is not a top priority. Nor was it for Hubble. Performance is so critical (and so difficult), that it's ready when it's ready - you just hope you can keep a lid on costs.

  • Show me the money... (Score:5, Informative)

    by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:17AM (#9694348)
    Safety concerns was the offical reason why they didn't want to service the Hubble, but this report most clearly is saying that's bunk.

    But what about the finacial concerns? I don't think NASA has the funding to allocate to a Hubble Repair mission... could the safety claims just have been a smokescreen to cover when the real reason was because they can't get the funding to do this?
    • by Kris_J (10111) *
      I don't think NASA has the public support not to. If you watch the agency let Hubble die are you more or less likely to request that your elected representatives find more funding for NASA?
      • by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:28AM (#9694394)
        In converse, it's the elected representatives who control NASA's funding to begin with... NASA can't fund a mission if they don't include enough money to do it in the budget.

        The current political pressure on NASA is to go to the moon and Mars. If NASA has to spend all of its money on that, there's nothing left for Hubble.
        • The current political pressure on NASA is to go to the moon and Mars. If NASA has to spend all of its money on that, there's nothing left for Hubble.

          It's a good idea for NASA to drag its heels right now. If the administration changes in November, there may be a new, er, vision, and commitments made now may become wasted effort and money.

      • by Almost-Retired (637760) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:54AM (#9694490)
        I've already voiced my opinion to my representatives, in unambiguous terms. IMO its criminal to allow a national treasure like that to die for lack of a few million to service it.

        They've done it twice before, and I don't see any reason they couldn't do it again as long as the shuttle they use is equipt the same as the one they used twice before. That might take some extra funds doing the retrofit.

        Tell ya how to take a vote folks, have the irs add a 50 dollar checkoff line to the 1040, where 50 bucks of your refund would go instead to nasa.

        I'd bet nasa would hear a get off your butts and doit message loud and clear cause I know I'd sure do the checkmark.

        I use 2 of its deep field images, totalling about 70 megs, as backgrounds for 2 of my 8 screens. Everytime I switch to one of those screens I'm reminded of just how usefull that the hubble has been even if it was in need of a set of glasses to clear it up. The last one, showing stuff as far out as 13 billion light years, is a truely impressive image since we are seeing the universe as it was when it was less than a billion years old when that light was sent on its way here.

        Properly maintained, that scope can and will be making new discoveries, adding to our knowledge of the universe and physics in general, stuff that cannot be done thru the haze of our atmosphere here on the ground, a hundred years from now.

        I'd like to see them add an RPG powered ion engine to it, not a very big one of course, just enough to give it a few ounces of push so that its orbit could be maintained over an extended period as one of the things the shuttle must do each time its there is to give it a push to correct for the decaying orbit. That pushing we are told, over-extends the shuttles available fuel, possibly endangering the ability to steer at landing time. The shuttle that goes there must have the robot arm, and it must be stripped a bit in order to lighten it to even reach the hubbles altitude which is about 50 miles above the design envelope of the shuttle.

        But the point is, it CAN be done. Dangerous, maybe. But I don't recall that any of the crews who have been there regretted doing it.

        Cheers, Gene
    • While it's good to know that NASA keeps the astronauts first and all else second, I think most would agree that Hubble needs this repair mission, and that those repairs can only be reliably carried out through the skilled men and women of the astronaut core. While I'm all for robots doing some of the space grunt-work, the HST is a very delicate piece of technology, one that should not be risked to further damage through unproven repair techniques.

      As to funding, yes NASA is strapped for cash, but attempti
      • by Buran (150348)
        The astronauts are actually quite in favor of doing the mission. They know what they signed up for and they don't like bureaucrats telling them that oh no, we suddenly aren't going to let you do your jobs. Guess what... spaceflight is risky.

        Stupid bureaucrats.
        • I am sure everyone would agree that spaceflight is risky and that there is a small but finite chance of another disaster. I am sure most astronauts would be willing to accept this personal risk for the mission. But what about the programatic risk? Do you realize that another NASA disaster, particularly on a mission which deliberately goes against the Challanger's investigation report, would result in the end of manned space-flight for NASA. No more space station. No going back to the Moon. No missio
      • by mbrother (739193)
        If NASA wanted to keep their astronauts perfectly safe, they would ground them all permanently. There is risk in the space game, and you deal with it, or don't. (One of my old professors from Rice, Jeffrey Wisoff, is an astronaut know and has previously service Hubble -- go Jeff!)
    • by LMCBoy (185365) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:39AM (#9694430) Homepage Journal
      But what about the finacial concerns? I don't think NASA has the funding to allocate to a Hubble Repair mission...

      First of all, the instruments which were slated to go up have already been built, so you're looking at a substantial loss of investment if a servicing mission doesn't go.

      I heard an estimate of 1 billion USD today for the robotic mission. A manned shuttle mission would likely be comparable in price. However, even if they don't send a repair mission, a robotic mission to HST will still need to be sent, in order to attach rockets which can safely splash it down into the ocean. Otherwise, there's no way to control where it will come down. The cost of this robotic-splashdown mission is half the cost of the full robotic-servicing mission (500 million USD).

      It would be a shame to scrap HST because we didn't want to spend an extra $500 million to save it. That's almost exactly the average price of a single space shuttle mission. NASA's annual budget is $15 billion. It's not a lot of money, considering what we're getting for it.
      • by node 3 (115640)
        It would be a shame to scrap HST because we didn't want to spend an extra $500 million to save it.

        It's even more the shame for all the money saved during the last year+ of non-flight. That $500 million isn't money that's unavailable, but it is money that would go to a purely intellectual goal. The current ruling ideology does not value social/intellectual concerns.
        • Or maybe the missing $500 million is going to
          something else? I suppose the question is, "what?"

          Oh, and about the money already spent on equipment
          for addon... that's a sunk cost. It really doesn't
          matter from an economic point of view. Right now
          it would be an issue of "what's the next best
          alternative for that money?" It best be something
          important.

          None of this is to say I don't think it should be saved,
          just that there's more (and less) to the situation
          than meets the eye.
    • by wass (72082) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @03:01AM (#9694518)
      I don't think NASA has the funding to allocate to a Hubble Repair mission

      Not really. NASA does have the money (assuming it's funding isn't further cut). But NASA administrator O'Keefe re-arranged the NASA priorities after Bush's claim for a Mars mission. The safety issue further added into this, but wasn't entirely a smokescreen.

      This is troubling because Bush appointed O'Keefe directly, and O'Keefe reports (or is supposed to, at least) back to Bush. More annoyingly is that O'Keefe single-handedly made the decision to cut the funding for Hubble Servicing Mission 4. He probably had advice from some panel or other, but in his email he stated the decision to cut or not to cut would be his alone.

      Luckily enough scientists and politicians acted out to fight O'Keefe's initial decision. Personally, I don't know if he decided to cut it just because of the Mars announcement or not, I think he just doesn't want any more astronaut deaths or serious accidents to occur under his watch. However, I think it's a shame to let NASA's scientific progress stagnate strictly due to safety issues.

      On the side note, the whole Mars thing seems bunk, when was the last time anybody even heard any other information about it? Maybe there'll be some more talk about Mars (talk is cheap) until November elections.

      • On the side note, the whole Mars thing seems bunk, when was the last time anybody even heard any other information about it? Maybe there'll be some more talk about Mars (talk is cheap) until November elections.

        Why not read the report that was recently released (the report was the first step in the planning/feasibility validation of the directed goal)...

        moon to mars [moontomars.org]
    • Instead we have some egotistical jerks who want NASA to go save their precious Hubble when they know damn well that the Shuttle isn't safe, its just lucky.

      The best bet for NASA is to either shut down the shuttle fleet or use it only for shuttling people to the station. Another disaster, especially linked to something high profile, will kill NASA.

      I would rather the Hubble burn up before risking anyone on the shuttle.
  • Funding (lack of) (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tirefire (724526) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:24AM (#9694370)
    I think the problem is that they threw all their budget away on that damnable ISS (which if it were unmanned, would cost waaaay less), leaving no funding for real projects.

    I mean, what's the point of throwing people up in space station compared to what you can get with an orbital telescope? The price of reparing this has got to be a tiny slice of what the ISS gets every year.
    • by Airw0lf (795770)
      I mean, what's the point of throwing people up in space station compared to what you can get with an orbital telescope?

      Apples and oranges, I'm afraid. It is true that people on the ISS cannot reproduce the valuable data that Hubble provides about distant stars and planets. However, the people on the ISS are capable of carrying out other forms of research that may be just as valuable. For instance, placing people on the ISS allows us to learn about the effects of living in space. This kind of experiment is
      • Re:Funding (lack of) (Score:3, Informative)

        by SB9876 (723368)
        The problem, though is that there is very little research that is being done or can be done on the ISS. Currently, about 5% of the astronaut time is devoted to science. Take a look at the ISS science web page (you'll have to dig, it's buried - I think NASA is embarassed to show it) sometime, it's pathetic. One of the 'science' experiments is having the astronauts take digital camera pictures of the Earth through the windows, I kid you not.

        The NSF did a study of the ISS a few years back and concluded tha
    • by Graymalkin (13732) * on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:48AM (#9694466)
      NASA's means of funding is to blame in this situation. Big science telescopes like Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer are one-off affairs. They get built and that is that. Hubble is an odd case because it has been serviced by the STS. The ISS on the other hand has to be constructed and launched, slowly. The contractors putting together ISS components make a lot of money billing the government.

      The Shuttle's design didn't originally include solid fuel rockets. This was later made a requirement as part of a compromise aimed at lowering the Shuttle's design and flight costs. The company that designed and built the SFRs was called Morton Thiokol, now called Cordant Technologies, which was based in Utah. Coincidentally this company had strong ties to the NASA's adminsitrator James Fletcher.

      Fletcher built up political support for the Shuttle by throwing some aerospace jobs to Utah. The first US politician to fly aboard the Shuttle was none other than Senator Jake Garn of Utah in April of 1985.

      This is the same reasoning behind many of the ISS decisions. NASA can't build something like the ISS without pretty hefty funding from Congress. In order to get funding they have to promise jobs and/or money to the constituencies of the legislators they're asking for money. NASA's administration also knows that if they promise individual companies contracts they can get them to make said legislators happy by writing them nice big campaign checks. Almost all government projects are based around this favor bartering system.

      Space telescopes aren't very lucrative contracts so it is hard to sell them to aerospace companies and Congress. The umpteen billion dollar ISS on the other hand is an easy sell as long as the construction can go as slowly as possible.
  • Why NASA bugs me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrLudicrous (607375) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:26AM (#9694384) Homepage
    NASA has been bugging me for years, ever since the days of Goldin and now O'Keefe. I believe that both of these head administrators have been overly prone to political pressure, and that Goldin's search for life on Mars has directed way too much money towards the endeavour of exploring Mars specifically for life, or what we think of as life. It's a modern day El Dorado as far as I am concerned for a variety of reasons, including ambient temperature, lack of magnetic field, lack of overwhelming evidence of large amounts of liquid to facilitate mixing of various organic molecules, depressed solar intensity due to distance from the sun, etc.

    And now what- we don't have the guts to fix Hubble? I think what this is really about is that we don't want to spend the money, that the head of NASA (O'Keefe is not even a scientist) is willing to bank on ground based telescopes under construction being able to fill in for what Hubble currently does (such as the almost burned observatory in Arizona). That is a dangerous, if not stupid, bet to be undertaking. Instead, we are going to throw our dollars at an improperly positioned space station that is doing trivial, not very important science and the search for life elsewhere in the solar system at a time when we are not technologically well equipped for such missions. We need to focus on near-Earth applications, going no further than the moon until we can bring down the costs and time needed to explore planets like Mars, Jupiter and Saturn for signs of life. I would rather obtain good astrophysics data than bad, inconclusive data about whether water existed in a crater on Mars many unspecified millions of years ago.

    • by bobhagopian (681765) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:47AM (#9694465)
      Oh, how misguided the parent is.

      First off, let me say that I'm an astrophysicist. I value "good astrophysics data" more than anyone else. I think Hubble should remain in a functional state, at least until a replacement (with detectors in more than just a couple frequency ranges) can be put into space. I also believe that going to the Moon right now is a waste of time and money.

      But, I will never say that about Mars. Three points:
      1. Whether or not you are happy with it, there is nothing wrong with doing something that gets the public excited about space exploration again. Sure, getting a man (or woman!) to walk on Mars has more engineering value than scientific value, but it will re-energize the population about the value of exploration. Can you think of a better time for astrophysical science than the 1960s?
      2. While we always prefer "good" data, we as a civilization would be selling ourselves short if we never tried to reach for the frontier. I think Kennedy said it best: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..." Sure, it's hard to obtain conclusive data about the existence of life on Mars. But it needs to be done. The fact that it's hard is no reason to throw our hands up into the air. It's simply too important to be ignored.
      3. Despite occasional comments (and glimmers of hope) suggesting otherwise, the search for life on Mars is primarily focused on the existence of life in the past. Because most scientists now believe that life on Earth was carried over on meteorites from Mars, these studies are examining our very origins as a civilization. Even if life wasn't transported from Mars to Earth, discovering the abundance (or lack) of life on Mars will tell us a lot about how life develops in this and other solar systems. Now, honestly, which gets you more excited: smaller error bars on stellar luminosity data, or answering in some small way the mystery of where we came from? One of these makes astrophysicists like myself very happy, the other answers the collective questions of an entire species trying to understand who they are.
      • Re:Why NASA bugs me (Score:5, Informative)

        by el-spectre (668104) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @03:02AM (#9694521) Journal
        Whoa... since when are most scientists convinced that life likely came from Mars?

        It's possible, sure. Even proven that the planets have swapped rocks many times, but "most scientists" ?

        Personally, I'd find it quite spiffy if it turns out that life came from space originally... makes the mystery much more interesting.

      • The technology and the cost benefit ratios just aren't there for a manned mission to Mars right now. If we are serious about going and are willing to be patient and work on the technological advancements that are necessary to make the mission worthwhile then I agree with you. However, a space cowboy style, flag and boots on the ground mission at this time would be prohibitively expensive and of dubious scientific value. Inspiring public interest in science and engineering is a noble goal, but one which is p
      • I made the mistake of opening up one of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels as a soaking-in-tub read the other week, and I've gotten re-hooked on the series. While the books don't play this up (excepting a few of the later ones), the fact is that these books actually, to me at least, provide a surprising amount of insight into why NASA is falling apart and no longer inspiring like it once did.

        The books are about a lost Terran colony (that's us) that has been out of touch with the rest of the universe by accident
      • I would agree that Mars is more interesting than the moon in many ways, but I still think that we should go to the moon first.

        If there is a major accident, an astronaut can get back to a tried-and-tested apollo style lunar capsule, launch pretty much immediately and get back home in a few days.

        On mars, you only have fast(ish) routes back to earth every 18 months (assuming something close to current rocket tech) with a 6 month transit time. A moon base will also give NASA time to invent & test new vehi
      • Re:Why NASA bugs me (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ChuckDivine (221595) *

        bobhagopian writes:

        First off, let me say that I'm an astrophysicist. I value "good astrophysics data" more than anyone else. I think Hubble should remain in a functional state, at least until a replacement (with detectors in more than just a couple frequency ranges) can be put into space. I also believe that going to the Moon right now is a waste of time and money.

        I'm going to make a brief comment here.

        Going back to the Moon will have some research value. To say we've exhausted what we can learn ab

    • by mbrother (739193)
      O'Keefe seems a straight up administrator/beauracrat without any vision. Goldin, who surely had flaws, was a man of great vision who saw the US and NASA making fantastic discoveries and developing new technology. I have a lot of respect for Goldin.
  • by Atario (673917) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:26AM (#9694386) Homepage
    I could see them objecting to maintaining Hubble in favor of a better space telescope, or even "we haven't got enough money", but because there's a risk?

    Is the idea at NASA that we should just not try something because there's a risk? I mean, is this the same agency that put men on the moon eleven years after being formed? Should I just not go to work tomorrow because I could get run down crossing the street?

    What the hell happened to this country's can-do spirit?
    • by ravenspear (756059) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:41AM (#9694442)
      What the hell happened to this country's can-do spirit?

      On 9/11 the terrorists succeeded in replacing it with "what can we do to best cover our ass."
    • I think that O'Keefe is more concerned about preventing more astronaut deaths during his tenure at NASA than scientific progress. So there might be less accidents in the future, but NASA risks turning into a marshmallow in the process.

      It's really annoying, because NASA is funded w/ our tax dollars, but Bush has the ability to pick and choose it's head administrator at will. O'Keefe was a Bush appointee, and always in the back of O'Keefe's mind will be the fact that Bush can withdraw his position. Thus,

    • The HST provides the best telescope data, period.
      The bean counter idiots in charge of NASA intend
      to replace HST with an inferior IR space-based
      telescope. The same contractors that have been
      working on HST are working on the "replacement".
      There is far more money to be made developing a
      new telescope than there is for "maintenence" on
      the HST. The development of a bleeding edge
      robotic servicing mission also is more profitable
      for the contractors than a manned mission.

      It all boils down to money, and where that
      • While I am strongly in favor of keeping Hubble operational because of its UV and visible capabilites, the James Webb IR telescope is hardly an inferior scope. It's got much improved optics, a better location and more sensitive detectors.
  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:28AM (#9694396) Journal
    If its on, give it the time and funding it deserves. If its off, don't waste resources on it. This to and fro nonsense just wastes money that could be used elsewhere and increases the risks if a mission does eventually go ahead.

    No one's willing to take risks or make a decision anymore. All we need is another damn shuttle disaster to slow everything down and have people screaming "its too dangerous to explore space - spend all your money down here".
  • I do not think that this would be a good idea. While it would be impressive if they could pull it off, the risk of failure outweighs the benefits even more greatly than that of a manned mission. Attempting to deploy "several bleeding edge technologies" on a "very short time scale" for a project like repairing the hubble space telescope is simply not a good idea. In all likelihood the technology used will not be adequately developed and it will be a unnecessary failure.

    With the recent success of the Mar
    • Attempting to deploy "several bleeding edge technologies" on a "very short time scale" for a project like repairing the hubble space telescope is simply not a good idea. In all likelihood the technology used will not be adequately developed and it will be a unnecessary failure.

      You know, space programs in general and NASA in particular have a very good track record of taking tons of bleeding edge technologies, throwing them all together in a mission, and pulling it off wonderfully. Your scenario is possibl
    • I'm not sure what you mean by this. The stuff to perform a repair mission has already been developed, and used on numerous occasions. In addition, the new instruments are tested and ready to go. This would not be a significant departure from other missions. What IS a significant departure is the robotic aspect, and the attaching of the deorbit booster.
  • by prichardson (603676) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @02:50AM (#9694474) Journal
    The problem with NASA is that it wants to be sexy rather than actually try and discover stuff. Looking for life on Mars is sexy. Looking into some obscure spectrum of something or other with a huge array of sensors located in Antarctica is not.

    Despite the fact that every time we try and use a new way to look at stuff (some obscure spectrum of something or other, for example) we find a lot out there, NASA stopped building an array of sensors in Antarctica (which son of George H Bush that put the pressure on them to do this is left as an exercise to the reader). The reason is that the populace seems to like sending stuff somewhere. Seeing more just isn't cool anymore. The Hubble telescope will fall into disrepair because people don't like looking at stuff. They insist on touching it. Even if that means the stuff is more than a few orders of magnitude closer.

    I guess I'll sum it up.
    Going to Mars with a robat that touches stuff and messes around: SEXY
    Looking at shit with a few big mirrors: NOT sexy
    • by wass (72082)
      Note - it's not NASA per se, but NASA administrators and bureaucrats that are leading this way. Most of the scientists and research staff actually support those science/research missions.

      On the flip side, some glitz and glamour is also needed to keep the public interested, which interests politicians and helps them direct more money at NASA. Remember, NASA has to convince the government that it needs to be funded. The sexy projects have public appeal, and have more influence in this regard.

      That's why

      • And please, keep in mind, a lot of what Hubble points at, and NASA funds, is decided by peer review, that is, other scientists. We make decisions based on good science, not sexiness. Hey, I mean, look at your average scientist. What do you think we're doing?
    • Going to Mars with a robat that touches stuff and messes around: SEXY

      Looking at shit with a few big mirrors: NOT sexy

      I think that should be rephrased:

      Going to Mars with a robot that touches stuff and messes around: FUNDING
      Looking at shit with a few big mirrors: NO FUNDING
    • Despite the fact that every time we try and use a new way to look at stuff (some obscure spectrum of something or other, for example) we find a lot out there, NASA stopped building an array of sensors in Antarctica (which son of George H Bush that put the pressure on them to do this is left as an exercise to the reader). The reason is that the populace seems to like sending stuff somewhere. Seeing more just isn't cool anymore. The Hubble telescope will fall into disrepair because people don't like looking a
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @03:07AM (#9694533)
    NASA did nearly the same thing towards the end of the Apollo program...They scrapped the last two lunar landings, even though ALL of the hardware was already built and ready to go, because they didn't want to staff the control room and fuel the rockets. It has been said that this was equivalent to crushing a brand new Rolls Royce which has never been driven simply because one does not want to pay for a tank of gas.

    The astronauts have already said that they are willing to accept the very reasonable level of risk to fly the mission and repair the Hubble. It is terribly ironic that one of the few worthwhile shuttle missions of the last decade is scrapped because something MIGHT go wrong. They seemed perfectly willing to risk human lives to fly loads of fairly useless experiments just a couple of years ago. Nobody would argue that the shuttle has lived up to the lofty promises that NASA administrators made to Congress in order to get the funding for all of this in the first place. The shuttle, despite that fact the shuttle itself is reusable, has cost billions more dollars than equivalent rocket missions would have. In fact, one of the main selling points of the shuttle, that it could carry 20 tons into low earth orbit, is moot because the shuttle almost never flies with the maximum payload for safety reasons. The decision not to save one of the best scientific investments ever made is a slap in the face after all of the money which NASA has sunk into the shuttle program. The Hubble Space telescope has added tremendously to our knowledge of the universe and inspired a generation of young scientists and engineers. If any further proof was needed of the impotence and wrong headed thinking at NASA then this is surely among the most damning pieces of evidence. Let us hope that they make the right decision before it is too late.
    • by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @04:37AM (#9694815)
      NASA did nearly the same thing towards the end of the Apollo program...They scrapped the last two lunar landings, even though ALL of the hardware was already built and ready to go, because they didn't want to staff the control room and fuel the rockets. It has been said that this was equivalent to crushing a brand new Rolls Royce which has never been driven simply because one does not want to pay for a tank of gas.

      The worst thing of all is what the US government spent the money on, when they'd cut it from NASA's budget.

      Vietnam.

      I wonder... in a hundred years, will historians point to this decision and say that this is the moment when the American dream died?

  • Happy to see this! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mbrother (739193) <mbrother.uwyo@edu> on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @03:09AM (#9694543) Homepage
    Hubble is really super, and don't go spouting off on how it sucks, or is impaired, or how it should be replaced...It is the best thing going for now, and the last 14 years, and it won't be replaced for several more years. I've still got a few Hubble projects I still want to do, and preamture failure might mean I won't get to do them, and I *can't* do them from the ground. It was never clear that a Hubble servicing mission was all that dangerous in the first place, probably not as dangerous as two ISS missions, for instance. I hate to see a new administrator come in and make the sort of unilateral decison(at least he didn't solicit astronomers!) especially someone who isn't a real scientist.
    • by niktemadur (793971) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @03:40AM (#9694637)
      I agree. Hubble has been able to take a licking and keep on ticking in superb fashion. Hubble is tried and true, so why scrap that old, faithful VW Beetle?

      Now for those that say that Earth-based telescopes (EBTs) can now do an equal job, I don't believe that for a minute. No two ways about it, once light hits the athmosphere, it is scattered and some of it is irrevocably lost.

      Here's another aspect that makes Hubble superior to EBTs: Hubble will never have a cloudy night.

      Hubble is perfect for working in tandem with EBTs. I'm thinking the Deep Field Proyect: Hubble gets the clear image, finds an intriguing gap, and Hawaii's Keck is called into action to zoom in as deep as it can on those coordinates. And then, voilá, the most distant object ever pictured makes itself apparent. The people operating Keck would not have known where to point if it wasn't for Hubble. This is just one example of how Hubble keeps astronomers thinking outside of the box.

      Also, any more servicing missions that Hubble gets from the Space Shuttle will only increase the know-how for future maintenance missions, as there is NOTHING that can replace on-the-job experience.

      For many reasons, including pretty pictures, I believe the only thing that could possibly replace Hubble is another Space Telescope, and that's not in the near horizon, so let's keep Hubble, what do you say?

  • by node 3 (115640) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @03:21AM (#9694574)
    During the proceedings (thanks C-SPAN!), it was quite evident that NASA was not giving a coherent reason for abandoning Hubble. NASA claimed that a mission to Hubble was unacceptably risky, while missions to ISS were not. The board pressed them on just how and why, and the increased risk seemed negligible for such a servicing mission.

    However NASA was excited about sending an unmanned robotic mission to service Hubble, and they claimed that there were companies working on proposals to provide that robot.

    My take was that this is the result of putting a non-scientist bean-counter (O'Keefe) in charge of NASA, coupled with an administration keen on cutting social funding while simultaneously funding private contractors as though there was no tomorrow.
    • by BelugaParty (684507) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @04:09AM (#9694730)
      I did not see the c-span coverage. However, I can see why the agency would be excited about servicing the telescope with robots. Mainly, because such an attempt would serve two purposes: it could fix hubble AND test out new technology. I can see both a cost benefit and scientific benefit to this solution. Whereas simply sending humans into spacewalk would be a waste.
      • by node 3 (115640) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @04:43AM (#9694831)
        I'd be excited about a robotic mission too ... if I believed it would work.

        The NASA guy (high up in the org) was really keen on the robot. He claimed to have seen "video" that was not (his words) "Power Point engineering".

        I'm highly skeptical of the robot idea, and here's why:

        NASA can afford to, and is capable of, repairing Hubble with a manned mission right now. The risk to the crew is negligibly greater than a mission to ISS, and NASA plans to send crews to ISS a-plenty.

        The risk to Hubble on a manned mission is fairly low. The risk to Hubble by entrusting it to an untested and today uninvented and yet-to-be-engineered robot is very high.

        I am *far* from convinced that cost and safety are rational reasons for the attitudes of being extremely against a manned mission to Hubble and being so emphatically enthusiastic on a robotic mission to Hubble. It doesn't add up. There are reasons I'm sure, but they *aren't* the officially stated reasons.
        • The risk to Hubble on a manned mission is fairly low. The risk to Hubble by entrusting it to an untested and today uninvented and yet-to-be-engineered robot is very high.

          I agree with your general thread (that a manned repair mission is preferable because it has a higher probability of success), but to be fair, the robot is not yet-to-be-engineered. It exists, and it works. It was built by the Canadarm guys. It was meant to go up to ISS for remote work outside thespace station, but the HST guys kind of
      • If you're so certain sending humans into a spacewalk would be a waste, than enlighten me: What happens when a bolt is 1/16" out of alignment, and the robot locks up? After a reboot, it STILL won't be able to COPE with the UNEXPECTED.

        THAT'S why sending people into space to actually DO things is SO DAMN IMPORTANT. Now, the question is: "Why do we keep sending 40 year old PHD's and NOT 20 year old Construction Workers?"

        • Well, for one thing you design a robot that can tolerate limited error and go around it.

          For another, you design a robot that can "phone home" for instructions in the case of the unexpected, just like a human would.

          And for the third, developing a robotic repair capability would allow us to maintain things like the JWST if we need to, things that are outside of our current human space presence. How can you possibly view that as bad?

          Yes, human space exploration is good, but we know how to send missions to
    • Given enough pressure from the public and scientists I would hope the president would issue an executive order directing NASA to service Hubble, using the shuttle if necessary. If Bush doesn't have the common sense to do this (probably not) Kerry will.
  • Tea Kettle (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Graymalkin (13732) * on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @03:21AM (#9694576)
    The HST's data archive is currently about 12TB. That data lone is going to provide grounds for scientific papers well into the future. This data archive grows by about 2TB every year. That is a lot of data out of one instrument. There's a lot of good science left in that data. Letting that tremendous data source fall prematurly into the ocean because the HST was abandoned would be monumentally stupid.

    There's also quite a bit of money and resources already devoted to the HST. Instruments and components have been built and paid for and the work is already done. Letting it sit on a shelf indefinitely would be a magnificent waste. Besides the money already spent a mission will have to be sent up, automated or not, to de-orbit the HST.

    NASA ought to bite the bullet and push the envelope a little bit. It doesn't matter that they would be using untested technologies. Fixing the HST would be the test. I have little doubt that it would be feasible to robotically service the HST. A small cadre of tool laden AIBOs with rocket packs should be able to do the trick. If NASA is too scared to send people into space they could at least send a few cute robot dogs.

    The technology and techniques learned with the HST could be applied later with the ISS' construction or even an in-orbit repair of a Shuttle or other craft. Maybe we could even start designing satellites that are meant to be services by robots to extend their useful lifetimes. Companies would be much more likely to invest in satellites if its potential operational life of 20+ years instead of 12 if everything goes alright.
    • Companies would be much more likely to invest in satellites if its potential operational life of 20+ years instead of 12 if everything goes alright.


      Actually, probably not; it's like computers. A 12 year old satellite is already obsolote; why would they bother trying to fix it when they could stash it into an inactive orbit and launch a new one?
  • by Vitus Wagner (5911) <vitus@wagner.pp.ru> on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @04:31AM (#9694794) Homepage Journal
    If NASA is not sure that shuttle can fly safely,
    they should by one Soyuz from us, Russians.

    Of course, Soyuz is technology of early 70'th,
    but it would be newly manufactured, when shuttles are PRODUCTION of eithties. It is also order of magnitude cheaper. We fly space tourishs to ISS for $20millions or so.

    • I don't think the Soyuz can make Hubble's orbit even if it's launched from the Equator. The Hubble is somewhere around 600 km above Earth while the International Space Station is at 300 km which is barely accessible from the usual mid-Asian launching point for Soyuz.
  • by jonwil (467024) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @06:27AM (#9695096)
    Even if it could be shown that a shuttle mission (with a crew who are willing to accept all the risks) was cheaper and easier than a robotic mission, NASA would still push for the robotic mission.

    Because if something goes wrong, NASA are out one expensive irreplacable shuttle and only have 2 left.
    Which isnt that much of a margin for error when it comes to sending shuttles up to finish the ISS.
  • by fuzzybunny (112938) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @07:31AM (#9695262) Homepage Journal
    Maybe they can pay someone like Burt Rutan...hushed silence...ten....million...dollars! to send a space ship up there to fix it.

    Oh wait...
  • Hardly Objective (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ishmalius (153450)
    The posting says "National Academy of Sciences," implying that the august body as a whole produced and endorses this report. In actuality, it was produced by a committee of Academy members, the Committee on the Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope. So it was unlikely that it would have arrived at any other conclusion.

    I think the Hubble should be saved, too. It is by far the optical device with the best 'seeing'. NASA and the scientific community have already labor

    • It is more like: 'I want more funding. Screw the rest of you guys.'

      Oh, please. Who are "the rest of you guys" supposed to be in this scenario?

      FYI, the NAS committee was formed because O'Keefe bowed to intense pressure from scientists, politicians and the general public over his unilateral decision to let HST go. He asked NAS to form this committee and to give him its recommendation.
  • Why does a mission to repair the HST cost so much ? - I mean if companies like Scaled Composites can fly a mission into near space for around $20,000,000 why does a mission to HST have to cost almost 20 times that ?
    • by Phelan (30485)
      Well you know
      56,000 miles is pretty impressive, but 160k miles it is not. So the Shuttle still has a couple of magnitudes advantage over our x-prize favorites.
  • by jmichaelg (148257) on Wednesday July 14, 2004 @10:36AM (#9696662) Journal
    All of the comments that start "Nasa should..." completely miss the point. O'Keefe made his call and , currently, O'Keefe runs Nasa. He's made it very clear that *his* decision will stand despite all the flack he's taken over *his* decision. Bush is about the only person who can either over rule or remove O'Keefe and Bush has a history of supporting people he appoints. Kerry flip flops so much that whatever he says he would do about Hubble if he were President doesn't carry much weight in my mind.

    O'Keefe is facing a grim reality - he can't fund all the projects he's got running. I'm not voting for Bush this year because he's run up a huge budget deficit - a deficit so large that us boomers won't live long enough to see retired. You younger ones will be paying for it long after we're gone. Since I'm pissed about the budget deficit, I can't very well say Nasa should get more money or fault O'Keefe for saying "you gotta choose and this is what my choices are..."

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