Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Decision coming on Hubble

Ever since the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia nearly four years ago, the final planned shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope has been in limbo. First it was cancelled, then changed into a robot mission, then re-instated as a possible mission, and then made dependent on the last two space shuttle flights.

This Friday, NASA will inch closer to a final decision on a Hubble repair mission. Space shuttle engineers are going to be meeting to discuss whether a repair mission is relatively safe, or whether it is too unsafe to proceed. If they deem it unsafe, then that will spell the end for Hubble. If they deem it safe enough, then the NASA administrator, Michael Griffin, will make the final call.

Hubble is working away, but in worsening shape. Its batteries are old and need replaced. Its gyroscopes are old and need replacing. Its pointing system is old and needs replacing. Its main camera has been acting flaky, and its secondary camera is nearly 10 years old -- ancient for space hardware. Its only spectrograph died a couple of years ago. Two brand new instruments have been built and are ready to be put onboard.

Do I think Hubble will be repaired? I don't know. I would like to see it repaired, but I am not the person who would be putting my life on the line. Hubble repairs are not worth six or seven human lives. My hope is that the engineers will not feel pressure from any side, but have a chance to honestly express their concerns and their confidence in a repair mission.

Stay tuned!

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