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Scientists Debate Robotic Hubble Mission 172

Posted by timothy
from the world-wars-lead-to-medical-breakthroughs dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Some scientists are questioning whether the robotic mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope is worth the risk and cost. After the Columbia disaster, NASA cancelled its shuttle mission to Hubble, and replaced it with a robotic mission. However, the price tag of the robotic mission is between $1 billion and $2 billion, almost the cost of a new space telescope. Optics expert Duncan Moore is unsure whether the mission will bring the most scientific return per dollar spent. Hubble director Steven Beckwith says the mission will lead to breakthroughs in space robotics."
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Scientists Debate Robotic Hubble Mission

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  • by Amsterdam Vallon (639622) * <amsterdamvallon2003@yahoo.com> on Monday November 29, 2004 @01:51AM (#10940965) Homepage
    I worked for NASA for 8 years straight out of MIT undergrad.

    Though I left the rocket science "business", I have no regrets. It was a great company to work for and we did some amazing things.

    That said, all science is good science, even this robotic HUBBLE mission. I helped with deployment of spacecraft and nothing was more satisfying.

    This mission MUST go on else we will fail as scientists.
    • by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:19AM (#10941039) Homepage
      That said, all science is good science
      While true, the real question if whether that $1-2b could be spent on doing better science. Of course, merely because $2b can purchase a new telescope doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile to do a robotic mission if the science and engineering aspects involved are new and exciting enough, or if the robotic equipment could be used for future time/money saving work.

      If its going to be a relatively routine job, then maybe its better to say a fond farewell to Hubble and build a new space telescope drawing on all the lessons learnt from Hubble's shortcomings.
      • by Pxtl (151020) on Monday November 29, 2004 @08:30AM (#10941931) Homepage
        Idunno, to me Hubble is more of just an excuse than a goal - NASA wants to develop robotics as an alternative to EVA. I remember designs in the 90s for a "Canad-Hand" to go on the arm. I think NASA just wants an opportunity to develop this technology so they don't have to risk more astronauts, and Hubble is a popular plaform to build support for it.
        • I'd be willing to wager that if NASA came out and asked for money to research orbital robotic technology they would have gotten it. One of the early designs for the Shuttle was a low Earth orbit system, similar to the shuttle of today, coupled with a permanently orbiting robotic booster. The booster would carry payloads into higher orbits.

          That project was canned because it more or less put human pilots in the back seat. I don't blame NASA. Once you take humans out of the loop, you kinda remove 90% of the

          • The Nasa beurocracy has found a 'perfect' happy equlibrium. Outsource actual launches so there is no real risk. Continue to draw the huge budget on the grounds of 'return to flight'. Billion dollar budgets to do nothing but write reports, a beaurocrats dream come true.

            The shuttle will never fly again. There will always be 'one more report showing yet another problem' to prevent that. In the meantime, the budget that used to get spent funding actual launches, is now burned up doing reports justifying

      • or if the robotic equipment could be used for future time/money saving work.

        It seems nearly inevitable that we would learn things from the robotic mission that will apply in the future.

        Consider that once you have a telepresence system in space, it becomes fairly simple to accomplish in-orbit refueling (including the telepresence system itself if it's durable enough for that). If such a system can be established as a long term space presence, it would tend to greatly reduce the consequences of failure

    • I dare say that while robotics research is a lofty goal, this is the wrong mission for it. We can study telerobotics just fine on Earth, and there are a pile of undersea applications that are far more technicalogically challenging, with more direct applications to everyday problems.

      When we say that 1 or 2 billion is going to research, that is the opening bid. Spending 1 or 2 billion to keep an obsolete telescope aloft is a bad use of R&D. Bad with a capital B. Especially since there is no advantage to

  • Cheaper to replace? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by tonsofpcs (687961)
    With all the money that goes into sending the spacecraft up, getting the robot out, having him do whatever, then having him either blow up or come down burning, wouldn't it just be easier to make a new one, add in a robotic arm or two so it can do self-repairs, and send that up?
  • Just do it (Score:2, Insightful)

    There's nothing to lose.

    1) The Shuttle is a waste of time and money. It should be grounded, and the remaining shuttles given to the Smithsonian.
    2) The Space Station is useless too. Time to just declare victory in the War against low Earth orbit, and bring it down.
    3) The replacement vehicles suggested for the Space Shuttle are scaled-up and enhanced Apollo capsules. We should just be buying Soyuz from the Russians. It works, it's safe. We'll never use it because it was Not Invented Here. Stupid. In case you
    • Re:Just do it (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:10AM (#10941012)
      Mod that parent up! (even though I only partly agree)

      1) Yep.
      2) Not quite, but we should finish the ISS using no more than 8 more shuttle flights, then all soyuz and USA/ESA expendable rockets. Hey, invite the Chinese to the party, too. Is it the INTERNATIONAL space station, or not? Snubbing the Chinese is a profoundly stupid thing to do; we'd be well served to have parts of the ISS coming up from China, Europe, Japan, Brazil, Russia, Canada, the USA, and anyone else with the mettle to fly vehicles there.
      3) We should seriously consider buying soyuz from the russians even as we develop further launchers. Apollo had a -LOT- of things right, shame we scrapped it.
      4) Going to Mars is only dumb if we don't plant roots there and establish a manned presence.
      5) I wholeheartedly agree that hubble should be extened robotically. Worst case, we fund R&D for some kickass robotic technology that we can use elsewhere in space or even down here. The problem is that the max price for the robotic mission is projected at $2 BILLION (2,000 x 1,000,000). Sending a shuttle to fix it with carbon based units is a $900 Million proposition. I say take volunteers for a risky shuttle flight and fix it with humans, then spend a smaller budget on a robotic grand finale that would enhance hubble one last time followed by a remote controled electrodynamic tether that would bring hubble in to its inceneration.
      • The problem is that the max price for the robotic mission is projected at $2 BILLION (2,000 x 1,000,000).

        Consider it either as a 2 billion dollar robotics/telepresence in space project and we get Hubble for free, or a 1.1 billion dollar robotics project and a 900 million dollar fix to Hubble and we test the robotics for free.

        It's easier to justify as a robotics mission where Hubble represents a real world test and cost offset than it is to justify 900 million and the human and shuttle risks just for

  • by Gopal.V (532678) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:03AM (#10940994) Homepage Journal
    Stupid question, If it costs as much as another hubble up there , why are we not building another one and send it up again ?.

    Secondly, why isn't ISS going anywhere in comparison ?. Also that's a more international project for space. I hated the canadian reference ... Also sadly the guy in charge wants to last out till Sept 2005 (you know nothing good or bad happens in the last months of retirement).

    Last century, most of the world (with notable exceptions), expected america to do the Right Thing. That's past now (see the Thermonuclear reactor project) and in 4 short YEARS.
    • If it costs as much as another hubble up there , why are we not building another one and send it up again ?

      Politics.

      It's probably less expensive to replace than to repair, but replacement seems to have been pretty low on the radar. Part of that is because repair money could come out of the manned/exploration program, while a replacement would probably come out of the space science budget.
      • There's also the fact that a robotic repair mission would serve as an excellent opportunity to learn a lot more about robotics in space, something that is very valuable in it self. Both NASA and ESA have sent up missions that do basically nothing but test new technology. This would be new technology that does something very useful other than "being new".
  • by f4llenang3l (834942) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:03AM (#10940996)
    ... to have robots with hands in orbit! I mean, we could make giant shadow puppets on the Great Wall of China!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Just imagine the possibilities, it could...

      - Knock on the door of Space Station Mir, then fly off.
      - Play Rock'em Sock'em robot with the satellites.
      - Give the finger to Canada when orbiting overhead (I kid, I kid...)
      - Play air guitar...in space!
      - Combine with other robots to make one gigantic super robot.

      etc.
  • by WarPresident (754535) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:05AM (#10941001) Homepage Journal
    However, the price tag of the robotic mission is between $1 billion and $2 billion, almost the cost of a new space telescope.

    Heck, you could shave a few hundred thousand off that pricetag if you built a new HST around the "backup" primary mirror made by Kodak [kodak.com] (which was figured and tested correctly). NASA would just have to get it from The National Air and Space Museum [si.edu].
  • by Bill_Royle (639563) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:05AM (#10941004)
    I'd suggest that the folks at SpaceShipOne could do it for a lot less money. Heck, set up a contest for it - then you're encouraging innovation in the field. With the savings you could garner you could probably divert that to other projects... or buy more $10k toilet seats.
    • No one else has the capability right now except perhaps the Russians. Scaled Composites isn't an option at this time. They don't have the skill set or the technology. From what I hear, this thing needs to get done by 2007.
      • I'm not saying Scaled Composites specifically, but they're a good example of a company that achieved a goal that would have cost a lot more if it had been done through NASA.

        Technology? No, they (being the contract-winner) probably wouldn't. But I'll bet Boeing, Lockheed or others would be happy to subcontract.

        Skillset? Pay more than NASA. Noone gets hurt but the dead weight, and the intelligent engineers that get it done get rewarded much better than they would at NASA.

        Yes, NASA would have a jump-sta
        • Technology? No, they (being the contract-winner) probably wouldn't. But I'll bet Boeing, Lockheed or others would be happy to subcontract.

          Actually, that's probably who will build the equipment, if it happens. My beef here is that NASA will provide, as usual, a cost-plus contract and it won't matter financially to the contractor (though the contractor might take a reputation hit if they don't work it right) whether Hubble gets repaired or not. In any case, it's going to require a lot of infrastructure th

    • by bhima (46039) <Bhima.Pandava@gma i l . com> on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:44AM (#10941098) Journal
      In order to reach the Hubble a Soyuz would have to be launched from the equator rather than Kazakhstan (where they are now currently launched). As it so happens, the Russians have signed a deal with the European Space Agency to allow them to launch Soyuzes from French Guiana starting in 2006. Additionally the costs of launch are so low, that 3 missions to Hubble could be planned for less than the one mentioned here, or two shuttle missions.

      Still I'd like to see James Webb Telescope in place...

      • Another good point.

        Since when is it an acceptable project or endeavor only if a US space agency takes part? If it can be done by the Russians, good for them.

        The sentence "It's good for science" isn't exclusively a US phrase.
    • ...or buy more $10k toilet seats

      Googling, I find that you are off by about two orders of magnitude on the price.

      I'm seeing a range of $150-$650 for the seats.

      Still spendy, but if you consider the costs of an engineer for a few hours, the requirements of said seat, and the small volume manufactured, it make a lot of sense, and seems reasonable.

      Consider, you need an engineer.

      You need to do a bit of research (a toilet designed for one G doesn't work the same in zero G).

      You need to figure out

    • What do you think NASA does? They do outsource HUGE amounts of work to various companies to build stuff, they don't build it all themselves.

      Gosh, everytime we have some sort of problem in goverment, why do so many people think that simply shutting down the goverment agency and handing out huge wads of cash to companies will solve it?

      Look at what Haliburton did in Iraq. Arguable the Army Corp of Engineers could have done a lot of that work for less.

      It will be years still before commerical interest and t
    • Actually, it *has* been contracted out. This MSNBC [msn.com] article talks about the robot, developed by MD Robotics [mdrobotics.ca], the company that brought you Canadarm 1 and 2 (aka the dextrous manipulator).

      The problem with Hubble is that it's designed to be serviced by humans- there are very few targets for vison-based positioning, and just undoing the bolts requires a lot of dexterity. Imagine building a robot that could open up your machine and replace a pci card. (Watch out for those IDE and power supply cables!) Successfu
  • $2 billion?? (Score:2, Interesting)

    I have difficulty comprehending how something can cost that much.

    How urgent are these repairs to Hubble? Realistically speaking, if NASA is only debating to whether to spend $2,000,000,000 now, it's going to be several years before anything gets off the ground. So clearly the repairs aren't that urgent. Wouldn't it then make more sense to spend the cash and resources on improving/fixing/replacing the shuttles, so that we can safely send humans to do the job?
    • Re:$2 billion?? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by eclectro (227083) on Monday November 29, 2004 @04:12AM (#10941253)
      Wouldn't it then make more sense to spend the cash and resources on improving/fixing/replacing the shuttles, so that we can safely send humans to do the job?

      I really think that NASA has a lot of dirty little secrets that no one on the outside knows about, and after this last accident they probably looked close and hard and realized that the number of places the shuttle could catastrophically fail is more than they originally thought.

      If there was another shuttle failure (even if it did not result in the loss of life) I suspect that there would be a noticeable chorus to dismantle the agency, that cannot produce very much more than kitsch science and photo ops with school children on the ground.

      Though unspoken, I think the three strikes and you're out rule may be in place here. NASA since apollo has always been an agency with self-survival first in mind, so I would not be surprised if they find a way to retire the shuttles to museums.

      So much as replacing the shuttles - I do not think that this will even be considered for the next decade as the cost is too steep. It was hard to justify the shuttles when they were first built (and the reason that the space station was built) in the seventies.

      But as can be seen, the space station can work with cheap Russian rockets that are more reliable than the shuttle.

      The Hubble was designed so it could be serviced by the shuttle (the other justification for the shuttle). But if the Hubble was designed so that parts could be replaced by dockable unmanned rockets, we would not be in this position we are today with it. For an instant, if the power supply and gyros were on a small module that could dock using conventional rockets. But it is not.

      When O'Keefe said that a repair mission to Hubble was "too dangerous," people should have recognized that that was code words for "we need to ground the shuttle permanently now."

      The fact is that there are earth based telescopes that are catching up in performance to the Hubble. Add to that the fact that the Hubble is old technology, it's pretty obvious that it's time to move on.

      It truly would be a better decision to take the many lessons learned from Hubble design and repair and put those in a new telescope, and send it to orbit on a unmanned rocket.

  • by fuzzy12345 (745891) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:09AM (#10941008)
    I'd say that the people doing cost/benefit analyses and robotic repair feasibility studies are engineers, not scientists. The guys that got hung out to dry by the early mirror troubles, the ongoing gyroscope troubles and the recent "drop everything: We're going to Mars" troubles, they're scientists.

    I can see de-orbiting an old, useless analog comsat as being sensible. But for stuff which would otherwise continue to usefully function for years or decades, write-off due to non catastrophic failure ought not to be the natural option. The US space program suffers from an attention deficit disorder.



    • Here's my conspiracy theory of the day; "drop everything: We're going to Mars" is just a distraction to screw those atheist astrophycists who are dabbling in things they shouldn't (origin of universe etc).

      Shut them up, those big bangers.

      • Here's my conspiracy theory of the day; "drop everything: We're going to Mars" is just a distraction to screw those atheist astrophycists...

        The problem with that is that it implies intelligence. I think that pure stupidity is to blame here.
  • by pair-a-noyd (594371) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:11AM (#10941016)
    He's got plenty of money, what with all the billions Halliburton has bilked the American public out of. What is the tab now? About 200 BILLION?? So what's a billion??
  • "If the cost hits $2 billion, that's three to four times what it would cost to send astronauts to do the job as they have four times before and as NASA planned before the Columbia disaster."

    Although we have got a lot of good from NASA and the technology they developed, the shuttle seems to be a giant money pit sucking up money that could be spent on maybe a replacement for the current shuttles. Sure the current shuttles are reusable, but after the Colombia disaster they were used a lot less than what they

  • by LucidBeast (601749) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:15AM (#10941027)
    I have an old Toyota thats about 16 years old and I kind of have the same dilema...

    Though, on the second thought, this problem doesn't involve robots.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    the mission to India [slashdot.org], it would be way cheaper.
  • If there's anything currently in orbit worth the risk of a space shuttle mission, it would be the servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA's administration hasn't put forth a compelling reason why they should be much more risk adverse than they were before. Frankly, it appears to me that the Hubble Telescope is just a pawn in some political game.
    • NASA's administration hasn't put forth a compelling reason why they should be much more risk adverse than they were before.

      It's not really the administration. I'm sure they care about the astronaut's, but if the money, the approval, and the astronauts informed consent are there I'm sure most of them would happily send them up.

      It's the American People, and our reaction to losing people (no matter whether they wanted to be there or not) that is the source of the fear. If NASA screws up again soon and anybo
      • A swing and a miss. During preview I noticed the phrase "astronaut's consent" needed an apostrophe, but I hit the wrong instance of "astronauts". Oops. I should know better than to post at 2:30am local time.
      • It's the American People, and our reaction to losing people (no matter whether they wanted to be there or not) that is the source of the fear. If NASA screws up again soon and anybody dies, they probably fear they will be dissolved. Don't know if that's a real problem... I consider it more likely they would simple be emasculated such that they were still a huge money sink, but too underfunded to actually do anything, a sort of "worst of both worlds" scenario.

        I don't see a massive reaction of the American

      • It's the American People, and our reaction to losing people

        That's completely wrong in reality it's all about the spin they fabricate. If losing people was really the issue, then look at the cost benefit equation. A defined risk, 2% probablity of losing the staff, with a 1% probability of not achieving mission (1 launch, one re-entry failure, on just over 100 missions). 4 people required for an hst service mission. 0.02*4 = 0.08 lives the real cost of a hubble service mission in lives.

        The american

  • by mykepredko (40154) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:22AM (#10941047) Homepage
    If they're not going to fix it, I'd like to understand why they must crash it down into the ocean? If they're going to send a propulsion module up there, why don't they move the Hubble to a Lagrange point between the Earth and moon?

    I realize that it will probably take years to get there but I've seen a few proposals for future space stations being placed at the Lagrange points - wouldn't it be nice if they had a high-quality (maybe not as good as when launched) set of optics waiting to be used in a station observatory? I realize that there is a (very) good chance of this never happening, but it seems a damn sight better than crashing Hubble into the Pacific.

    myke
    • I'd like to understand why they must crash it down into the ocean?

      Because the stuff on it that's not expected to totally disintegrate has too large of a footprint and is statistically dangerous. The primary is going to come down as a big hunk of hot glass, propellant tanks will probably survive, as well as some other bits.

      It's also cheaper to build a new telescope than it is to try to figure out a way to get the existing HST into a station in some other orbit.
      • just to be pedantic, there are no propellant tanks on HST. Propellants leave icky residue on optics.
        • you're right about HST-- I just did a double check and couldn't find any propellant tanks. I had guessed they would be there for maintaining orbit, but shuttle probably does that during servicing.

          Propellants (esp hydrazine) does leave icky stuff on optics, but they get put on board some telescopes anyway and managed very carefully on some missions. If you're out at L2 you need them to maintain the orbit, and probably to desaturate reaction wheels.
    • by evanbd (210358) on Monday November 29, 2004 @03:43AM (#10941197)
      1) It's unsafe to all the other things (including people) to leave unneeded space junk up there.

      2) The propulsion module needed to deorbit is much smaller and therefore cheaper to build and launch than one to move it.

      3) Moving it then requires keeping it in place and also repairing it, if it's to be useful.

      4) After moving it, it would still be nice to be able to dispose of it once it's no longer worth maintaining.

      5) You do realize there's a plan to put the replacement [wikipedia.org] at the (Earth-Sun) L2 point, right?

      • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Monday November 29, 2004 @08:59AM (#10942191) Homepage Journal
        The replacement is a very specialized infrared telescope that won't be able to make the same kinds of observations that the Hubble has been making.
      • 1) It's unsafe to all the other things (including people) to leave unneeded space junk up there.

        [..]

        3) Moving it then requires keeping it in place and also repairing it, if it's to be useful.

        I thought a LaGrange point was gravitationally stable, requiring no "keeping it in place" whatsoever. If that's so, it would certainly not be "unsafe to all the other things".
        • L1, L2, and L3 are semi-stable -- they're stable perpendicular to the axis of the two massive bodies, and unstable along that axis. That makes station-keeping pretty easy, but it still needs to be done. L4 and L5 are fully stable. As for it being unsafe to leave things, I had actually meant that you can't just leave Hubble where it is until it completely fails and then forget about it. But, even at one of the Lagrange points, it poses a hazard to other things you might like to put at that point later.
  • What's the debate? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dshaw858 (828072) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:23AM (#10941049) Homepage Journal
    I don't quite understand what the debate is. Even if the mission fails and billions of dollars are "wasted", it will not all be in vain. Using robotics like this are exploring a new frontier of space exploration. The first few manned shuttle orbits weren't risky? Of course they are! The Columbia accident proves that they still are today. Money is valuable, but exploring new scientific frontiers is much more valuable.

    - dshaw
    • NASA is always short of cash, and I think we could probably learn a lot more by sending up 4 replacement hubbles and using them than trying a robotic repair mission that leaves us without any telescope at all.
  • What they ought to do is put the money towards designing a space elevator. They could stick a telescope...or somehow get the hubble...onto the mass that would hold the carbon fiber ribbon taunt. Then they could just climb up and down the elevator to make repairs. This would be cheaper (per trip...not as a whole project), and a heck of a lot more innovative than making robots to fix Hubble.
    • I suspect a space elevator would vibrate too much for Hubble to work with. The reason it's out by itself in the high orbit and not attached to a manned station is to avoid dust, gas, heat and vibration. Even a really well damped elevator would probably blur Hubble images horribly.

      An elevator would be a better way to lift parts or a replacement though.
  • Why not spend the monies on a robotic mission to build a new 'scope.

    C'mon people...we don't always have to choose between lowering the water or raising the bridge.

    That said, I'm puzzled why the Hubble guy is pushing robotics. That's like a popsicle sales manager suggesting the company start selling hotdogs, instead of finding a way to improve sales of raspberry 'sicles.
  • by deft (253558) on Monday November 29, 2004 @02:43AM (#10941093) Homepage
    This money might be better spent on terrestrial research right now.

    Look a story down at the hydrogen development... this could change the world on a much bigger scale than anything...effecting us right here ont eh ground right away. 2 billion can do so much good right here.

    Yeah, I sort of hate the idea of not looking toward the stars even for a moment, but look around here, things are pretty messed up, and I dont like the dependence on gas and oil. 2 billion could go towards alot of infrastructure for hydrogen cars.
    • What is not needed is hydrogen powered cars but a viable means to generate the power to make hydrogen (energy) readily available for everyone. Molecular hydrogen as demanded by the "hydrogen economy" is very simply a medium with which energy is physically transfered. Gasoline is as much of an energy transport medium as hydrogen.

      Both hydrogen and gasoline can be used to generate electrical energy, gasoline and its hydrocarbon cousins however release the carbon part of their hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons can be
    • by wass (72082) on Monday November 29, 2004 @04:35AM (#10941302)
      This money might be better spent on terrestrial research right now.

      Yeah, and all the research money Faraday, Maxwell, Marconi, Rutherford, Bohr, Watson+Crick, etc wasted on mere 'science' would have better been spent perfecting metal bearings for carriage cartwheels, right?

      Look a story down at the hydrogen development... this could change the world on a much bigger scale than anything...effecting us right here ont eh ground right away. 2 billion can do so much good right here.

      Umm, you might want to take a look at the projects funded by DOE. Many of them are in the realm of better energy resources, including hydrogen power, as well as fusion.

      I dont like the dependence on gas and oil. 2 billion could go towards alot of infrastructure for hydrogen cars.

      Apples and oranges, 2 billion for funding 'hydrogen car infrastructure' doesn't necessarily have to come from Hubble. Besides, if Hubble were cut, chances are that the money 'saved' would just be diverted to Iraq or otherwise be lost in a myriad of other government pork.

      Anyway, you're pretty short-sighted. Like I said before, if the world were populated with people like you, than today we'd have highly-optimized horse-drawn carriages and cobbled roads, without the money-wasting inconveniences of digital electronics, for example.

      • Anyway, you're pretty short-sighted. Like I said before, if the world were populated with people like you, than today we'd have highly-optimized horse-drawn carriages and cobbled roads, without the money-wasting inconveniences of digital electronics, for example.


        You're assuming that we are better off *with* the "inconveniences"...perhaps highly-optimized horse-drawn carriages and cobbled roads aren't such a bad idea, after all...
    • I don't think there will ever be a time when earthlings don't consider their planet messed up.

      1.5B $ will build an ITER fusion research plant, but now it is held up in international politics.
  • If, as I understand it, the robots would be brought down and destroyed after the mission anyway, why couldn't NASA get some more use out of them?

    Put cameras on them with a feed to Earth, this is not that hard to do. Have the two robots slug it out in orbit over the Pacific, maybe with the moon as a backdrop, and drop 'em into the Pacific after that.

    It probably strikes as a bit off-the-wall, but could have several benefits...the sale of advertising during the program could pay a decent bit of the bill, and hey, we need to do SOMETHING to get people aware that yes, there actually is something out there past the atmosphere. Might raise support for funding in several ways...for one, not needing so much of it (the advertisers), and for another, raising public awareness.

    Yes, I'm advocating a publicity stunt. That's what seems to get people's attention.

  • About time... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ca1v1n (135902) <snookNO@SPAMguanotronic.com> on Monday November 29, 2004 @03:30AM (#10941174)
    It's about time we had robots that could fix orbiting devices. Two billion is a bargain. Oh, yeah, and it might just save one of the most scientifically energizing pieces of space hardware ever flown.
  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Monday November 29, 2004 @03:52AM (#10941219)
    The University of Arizona is currently working on the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT)- see: http://www.nd.edu/~science/core/binocular/index.sh tml [nd.edu]. The thing has twin 8.4 meter mirrors- their light gathering power is equivalent to a single 11.8 meter telescope, and their resolving power is equivalent to a 22.8 meter telescope. It is supposed to have more light gathering power and much sharper images than Hubble http://www.nd.edu/~science/core/binocular/lbt_othe rtelescopes.shtml [nd.edu]. Supposedly the LBT is be able to get around the blurring from the atmosphere by using adaptive optics- deforming the secondary mirrors to correct for distortions. They claim that the construction costs are $80 million. So, an order of magnitude more resolution for an order of magnitude less money. If it performs even close to specifications, it sounds like a good deal. The dedication ceremony has already taken place and the thing is supposed to be operational in 2006.
    • by wass (72082) on Monday November 29, 2004 @04:55AM (#10941357)
      Supposedly the LBT is be able to get around the blurring from the atmosphere by using adaptive optics- deforming the secondary mirrors to correct for distortions.

      Hmmm, yet another post that assumes telescope resolution is the one parameter that determines which telescope is best. A quick analogy would be to claim which is better - a monitor resolution with 1024x768 at 24 bit color, or 3200x2400 resolution with 1 bit color. The answer, of course, is that it depends on your application.

      Questions about this project:

      1. Adaptive Optics (AO) usually need a reference star nearby, or an artificial star produced w/ laser. What limitations will this produce in the images?
      2. How does this limit the area of the sky they can look at?
      3. What is the wavelength 'bandwidth' of the telescope, accounting for atmospheric absorption as well as sensor design?
      4. A good deal of astronomical science is done with spectra. What artifacts are introduced into the spectra through absorption and emission lines of the atmosphere?
      5. What artifacts are introduced to the spectra through artificial star for the AO?
      6. How long are the integrations that this telescope observe for? Hubble Deep Field was integrated for 150 orbits (10 days). Can this project integrate for a similar time, observing similar magnitude faint galaxies (sometimes individual photons), while maintaining a similar SNR?
      7. What is the limit for observing faint objects with this groundbased scope? Ie, the noise floor of a ground-based scope is much higher due to scattered 'light pollution', and it would be harder to see fainter objects.
      So basically, image resolution is only one of several important factors and limitations in doing astronomical science.
      • As I used to be out in AZ and am and astronomer I'll take a quick hack: 2. Large telescope = small field. The f/15 field of view is 8 x 4 arcminutes 3. 0.3-400 microns. Accounting for atmospheric seeing. . well that's questionable, but close to that big of a span (I'm not ready to fight atmospheric windows over collecting area today) 4. The same absorption lines we see in all spectra. That's why we takes standards and off source spectra as well with any telescope. 6.Using the 90 inch I've done hour inte
  • by Audacious (611811) on Monday November 29, 2004 @04:13AM (#10941254) Homepage
    The problem is which way will people whine about the most. When astronauts are lost NASA is bombarded with "Save the Astronauts!" slogans. Lots of BS about why we should send robots instead of people.

    Then when the price tag for sending robots into space is talked about people start screaming "Why are we doing that? Send astronauts instead! It's cheaper."

    It is decisions by committee and it works in the same way as if you were driving a bus down a multilane freeway at the beginning of rush hour with a cloth tied over your eyes. Your only method of knowing what to do is what everyone on the bus is trying to tell you. So everyone gets to scream out what they want the bus driver to do and then he tries to react to the orders. And just like the bus - NASA is going willy-nilly down the freeway trying not to hit anyone, trying to apease each and every person on the bus, and to reach the destination each and every one on the bus is screaming at them to go to. It is a thankless, almost impossible task to perform.

    The people of America need to realize just how stupid their over-the-top reactions to problems with space travel are. This isn't Star Trek, BattleStar Galactica, Star Wars, or any of the other truly great (IMHO) space shows. The physics alone are no where near the same. Yet these TV/Movie shows are what are held up as being totally correct and truthful. Further, when someone dies (as in Star Wars when trying to take out the Death Star) no one goes "Wait! Oh my GOD! Think about the insurance! Oi-vey! What about the children? His/Her wife/husband? Friends, relatives, and countrymen? Who's going to pay for all of this?" Everyone goes "Oh Wow! Did you see that? His head flew off into the window next to where Luke was trying to save Obiwan!"

    So what am I trying to get at? The country needs to decide, once and for all, whether it is worth the lives of our astronauts to send people into space. If it is - stop complaining and start supporting that way of going into space. If it isn't - stop complaining about the cost and lend your support to the cause. The main thing is - you can't have it both ways. Either people are going to die up there or we are going to probably bankrupt the country trying to build a robot capable of doing everything a human can do.

    And don't think that just because businesses are starting to get into the space business that things are going to change for the better. The problem isn't going to go away just because you've changed who is going into space. It doesn't work like that. You are still going to have people dying up there if you send them up there. You just will have more of them dying at one time. Just like in an airplane crash.

    So come on America! Make up your mind! People or robots?
    • This is where I strongly resent the way my tax dollars are being used. I have long been a proponent of more manned space missions. I am also a strong oponent of the way the government currently spends a lot of its money. We're in a government-created budget deficit that will make it impossible to support "entitlement" programs of the future. We will wind up with loads of discretionary spending being cut off entirely just because we have to continue to service our national debt.

      NASA is the kind of program t

    • And don't think that just because businesses are starting to get into the space business that things are going to change for the better. The problem isn't going to go away just because you've changed who is going into space. It doesn't work like that. You are still going to have people dying up there if you send them up there. You just will have more of them dying at one time. Just like in an airplane crash.

      So every time there's a fatal car accident, we have national days of mourning and convene investiga
  • Why don't we lease a Russian Spacecraft and blast some fixit guys up to hubble?
  • NASA has a long string of robotics failures. Except the little rovers from JPL, which is really a unit of Caltech, very little good has come out of NASA in robotics. They attract good people and put them into NASA's underperforming organization, wasting America's robotics talent.

    NASA tried to develop a robot to do jobs like servicing the Hubble. The Flight Telerobotic Servicer [astronautix.com] project cost $288 million and produced zilch. Then there was the Robotic Satellite Servicer [astronautix.com], NASA's second try at the same idea

  • by jfoust (9271)
    Those interested in the various alternatives to repairing or replacing the Hubble Space Telescope may be interested in this article [thespacereview.com] from a few weeks ago that reviews an interim "Analyses of Alternatives" report by a third party, the Aerospace Corporation. This report concludes that a robotic repair mission would cost about the same as a shuttle repair mission or building and launching replacement telescope(s), but carries a far lower probability of success. It should be noted that this is an interim report

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