Feeds

NRC pleads case for Hubble mercy mission

'Compelling scientific returns' from manned rescue

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

A new approach to endpoint data protection

NASA should not close the book on sending manned service missions to Hubble, according to a preliminary report issued yesterday by the US National Research Council (NRC). In a letter (which you can read here) addressed to NASA's top Administrator Sean O'Keefe, the research council said that there are "compelling scientific returns" to be gained by continuing to maintain and upgrade the space telescope, as planned.

The NRC urged NASA not to rule out sending astronauts to the telescope, in a direct challenge to Administrator O'Keefe's decision earlier this year to cancel any manned shuttle missions that did not involve the International Space Station.

Hubble was launched in 1990, and was designed to last in orbit for 15 years. Since then, it has been upgraded and fixed several times. Prior to the destruction of the shuttle Columbia in February 2003, and the tragic loss of her crew, NASA had planned to send another servicing mission to Hubble - a move that would extend the telescope's useful life.

According to Space.com, this mission would have included installing two new instruments, designed to improve Hubble's view of the Ultraviolet spectrum, on the telescope. Both instruments - the Wide Field Camera-3 and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph - are already built.

In January 2004, O'Keefe said that to comply with the safety recommendations made by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), no further shuttle missions would be flown to Hubble. The Astronomy community was devastated, and immediately called for investigation into the alternatives. Various robotic fixes have been put forward, and may yet extend the life of the telescope.

As things stand, a servicing mission of some kind is planned for 2007. Its stated purpose is to give the craft the instructions it needs to "de-orbit" safely into the Pacific Ocean. However, NASA has called for suggestions on how this mission could be modified to include replacing batteries and on-board gyroscopes, which will begin to fail at around this time. The replacements would mean that Hubble, without upgrades, would stay functional until around 2013.

The NRC Committee says it will evaluate the viability of a service mission to Hubble that would satisfy all the safety recommendations made by the CAIB, as well as those made by NASA's own team. It will then provide a risk benefit assessment of running either a shuttle service mission, or a robotic service mission.

The letter includes an outline of the importance of continuing to service Hubble, including an extensive list of the telescope's discoveries and contributions to our understanding of the universe. From the discovery of adolescent galaxies, to confirmation of gravitational lensing, right through to the discovery of nearby stars with protoplanetary disks, and confirmed gas giants orbiting other near neighbours.

The final report should be ready by late summer, or early autumn, the committee says. ®

Related stories

Astronomers weigh ultra-cool brown dwarf
NASA seeks Hubble robot rescue input
Boffins baffled by suburban quasars
NASA moots robotic Hubble fix
Hubble nudges the dawn of universe
Oldest galaxy found behind big cluster

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
Boffins spot weirder quantum capers as neutrons take the high road, spin takes the low
Cheshire cat effect see neutrons and their properties walk different paths
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
prev story

Whitepapers

7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?