NASA green lights robotic Hubble fix

$1bn rescue mission in three years

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NASA's top boss has given engineers the go ahead to start planning a robotic fix for Hubble. The mission will repair the telescope's broken imaging equipment as well as carrying out general maintenance and repairs.

Chief administrator Sean O'Keefe pulled the plug on all Hubble missions after the Columbia Shuttle disaster. Since then, the search has been on for an alternative way to keep the telescope functioning, drawing support from the National Research Council, and even from representatives of the Senate.

Last week, one of the space telescope's four science instruments stopped working, yet again focussing attention on the cancelled servicing mission.

At a meeting at the Goddard Space Centre this week, O'Keefe acknowledged that public opinion is firmly behind finding a fix for the space telescope.

According to Discovery News he said: "Everybody says, 'We want to save the Hubble' - well, let's go save the Hubble. Rather than just sitting there and talking about how we think we're going to do it, we've got an option we're ready to go with."

The mission is no small undertaking: it will take nine months of planning, will cost between $1bn and $1.6bn, and won't get off the ground for around three years.

That should be just in time to save Hubble. The telescope's systems have enough power to keep going until 2008. If it is not fixed by then its gyroscopes will fail, and with a nudge from NASA, it will crash into the sea. ®

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