Friday, May 27, 2005

The future of the Hubble Telescope -- Part 1

Over the past several months there has been quite a bit of talk about the future of the Hubble Space Telescope. The previous NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, announced a while ago that there would be no more missions to service Hubble. Then, after an outcry from scientists and the public, he decided to consider alternatives, such as a robotic servicing mission. Recently, the new NASA administrator, Michael Griffin, announced that he was more seriously considering a manned servicing mission to fix Hubble.

Several of the arguments used agains fixing Hubble are not very good arguments, but some are very good. Let's start with the good arguments against fixing Hubble:

  1. A repair mission is expensive -- The total cost of a mission would be over a billion dollars. That money would have to come from other NASA programs, such as future space telescopes.
  2. If the shuttle were to lose part of its protective shielding, there would not be enough time for a rescue mission -- This is true unless a second shuttle happened to be put on the launch pad, ready to go on a rescue mission at a few days' notice. This would raise the cost of the mission a lot.
  3. Hubble has outlived its planned lifetime -- Also true; it was hoped that Hubble would last 5 years, maybe 10. And its up to 15 years!

Next time I'll talk a bit about some of the flimsier arguments used against a servicing mission, and then in the last of three parts, I'll give what I feel are good arguments for servicing Hubble.

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